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Context of 'Mid-1971 and Beyond: Agnew Refuses to Resign from Vice Presidency'

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Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew.Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Vice President Spiro Agnew, fresh from helping Richard Nixon win the 1968 election by viciously attacking their Democratic opponents, wins a reputation as a tough-talking, intensely negative public presence in Washington. Much of Agnew’s tirades are crafted by White House speechwriters Pat Buchanan and William Safire. In 1969, Agnew derides antiwar protesters, saying, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” [Time, 9/30/1996] Student war protesters “have never done a productive thing in their lives,” and, “They take their tactics from Fidel Castro and their money from daddy.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 10/11/1998] In 1970, he attacks the American media and critics of the Nixon administration alike, telling a San Diego audience that “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Agnew attacks enemies of the administration as “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” “vicars of vacillation,” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” Democrats are “radic-libs” and “ideological eunuchs.” In Des Moines, reading a speech written by Buchanan, Agnew slams the US media industry, saying it is dominated by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Agnew’s unrelenting attacks on the press raise, reporter Lance Morrow writes in 1996, “issues of media bias, arrogance and unaccountability that are still banging around in the American mind.” Agnew is undone by his own negativity, earning a barrage of critical press coverage for, among other things, calling an Asian-American reporter a “fat Jap,” referring to a group of Polish-Americans as “Polacks,” and dismissing the plight of America’s poor by saying, “To some extent, if you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.” Many political observers feel that Agnew’s heated rhetoric is the precursor to the wave of personal, negative attack politics practiced by the GOP in the decades to come. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; Time, 9/30/1996] Interestingly, while many Americans celebrate Agnew’s rhetoric, few want him as a successor to the presidency. One Baltimore bar patron says, “I don’t want the president of the United States to sound like I do after I’ve had a few beers.” [Economist, 9/28/1996]

Entity Tags: William Safire, Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Lance Morrow, Patrick Buchanan, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Vice President Spiro Agnew (see 1969-1971, April 10, 1973, and October 10, 1973) gives the following advice: “We must look to the university that receives our children. Is it prepared to deal with the challenge of the non-democratic left? One modest suggestion for my friends in the academic community: the next time a mob of students, waving their non-negotiable demands, starts pitching bricks and rocks at the Student Union—just imagine they are wearing brown shirts or white sheets and act accordingly.” [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

By the summer of 1971, President Nixon and his senior staffers, particularly John Ehrlichman, have come to view Vice President Spiro Agnew as more of a liability than an asset (see Mid-1971). Agnew, who has served the president well as a conservative “stalking horse” who could lambast antiwar protesters and foreign leaders in a way that might be unsuitable for a president (see 1969-1971), has in recent months begun complaining about being kept away from real decision-making, particularly on foreign affairs. (Agnew has not made himself popular by attacking Nixon’s recent overtures to the Communist Chinese and complaining to anyone who would listen about his “poor” treatment at the hands of Nixon and his aides.) All of this has made Nixon unwilling to spend a lot of political capital in defending Agnew from bribery charges (see April 10, 1973). Nixon aides ask Agnew to voluntarily resign, a request he resists. In return, Agnew levels accusations that White House staffers began a media leak campaign designed to drive him from office. Agnew waffles on the question, offering to resign if Nixon would promise to grant him immunity from prosecution, then thundering to one receptive audience, “I will not resign if indicted!” By September, Nixon’s new chief of staff, Alexander Haig, brought in to keep the Nixon administration intact under the specter of the Watergate investigations, begins pushing Agnew to resign, threatening that the Justice Department would prosecute him for income tax evasion on the bribes he had taken unless Agnew resigned. Agnew will later say that he felt Haig was implicitly threatening his life if he didn’t “go quietly”; for his part, Haig finds Agnew so menacing that he tells his wife if he disappeared, she “might want to look inside any recently poured concrete bridge pilings in Maryland.” [US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Spiro T. Agnew, John Ehrlichman, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Vice President Spiro Agnew tells Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman that he is becoming enmeshed in an investigation of illegal campaign contributions in his home state of Maryland. The state’s US Attorney, George Beall, questioned Agnew’s former business aide, Jerome Wolfe, who provided evidence of Agnew discussing raising funds from Maryland business owners who had received state contracts. It “wasn’t shakedown stuff,” Agnew says, “it was merely going back to get support from those who had benefitted from the administration.” Agnew knows that Beall’s brother is Senator J. Glenn Beall (R-MD), and asks Haldeman to have the senator intercede with his brother, a request Haldeman refuses. For his part, President Nixon is more amused than angered by Agnew’s apparent corruption, joking that taking campaign contributions from contractors was “a common practice” in Maryland and other states. “Thank God I was never elected governor of California,” Nixon cracks. But the allegations against Agnew will become more widespread; a Maryland grand jury will alert the Justice Department that Agnew had taken money for past favors, even taking payments—bribes—after becoming vice president. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: J. Glenn Beall, George Beall, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Jerome Wolfe

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Spiro T. Agnew.Spiro T. Agnew. [Source: University of Maryland]Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigns. He will be replaced by an appointee, House Republican Gerald Ford (see October 12, 1973). Agnew, a conservative Maryland Republican with a long history of racial repression, ethnic jokes, and racial slurs in his record, appealed to conservative Southern voters as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972 (see 1969-1971). Agnew was the first vice president to be given his own office in the West Wing. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007] But by mid- and late 1971, Agnew is battling attempts from within the White House to force him to resign (see Mid-1971 and Beyond).
Nolo Contendre - Agnew’s lawyers reach a deal with the Justice Department, agreeing to a plea of nolo contendre (no contest) to the tax charge, a $160,000 levy of tax repayments, and a $10,000 fine. In return, Agnew agrees to leave office. One of his last actions as vice president is to visit Nixon, who assures him that he is doing the right thing. Agnew later recalls bitterly: “It was hard to believe he was not genuinely sorry about the course of events. Within two days, this consummate actor would be celebrating his appointment of a new vice president with never a thought of me.” For his part, Nixon will recall, “The Agnew resignation was necessary although a very serious blow.” Nixon apparently is not as concerned about punishing a White House official for misconduct as much as he hopes Agnew’s resignation will redirect the public anger away from himself. That ploy, too, will backfire: Nixon later writes that “all [Agnew’s resignation] did was to open the way to put pressure on the president to resign as well.” [US Senate, 2007] Agnew later says that Nixon “naively believed that by throwing me to the wolves, he had appeased his enemies.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996] The State of Maryland will later lift Agnew’s license to practice law. [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]
'Affluent Obscurity' - Agnew will return to private life (in what one reporter will call “an affluent obscurity”) [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/21/1996] as an international business consultant (see 1980s). He will publish a 1980 memoir entitled Go Quietly… Or Else, in which he says he was forced to resign by scheming Nixon aides, and a novel about a corrupt American vice president “destroyed by his own ambition.” Continuing to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing (see 1981), he refuses any contact from Nixon until he chooses to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Gerald R. Ford, Jr.Gerald R. Ford, Jr. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library]President Nixon names Congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) as his nominee for vice president. Two days before, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his office after being convicted of tax evasion charges unrelated to Watergate (see October 10, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, 5/3/1999] Nixon’s original choice for Agnew’s replacement is former Texas governor John Connally, in hopes that Connally can secure the 1976 GOP presidential nomination, win the election, and continue Nixon’s legacy. But Connally, Nixon’s Treasury Election, is himself under investigation for his handling of a secret Nixon campaign fund. Nixon’s close political ally and strategist Melvin Laird, Nixon’s first secretary of defense, and veteran political adviser Bryce Harlow advised Nixon to select Ford as his new vice president. Other Republicans are recommending better-known party stalwarts—former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, California governor Ronald Reagan, Senate Watergate Committee co-chair Howard Baker, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican Party chairman George H.W. Bush, Connally, Laird, and others—Ford is a complete party loyalist, popular among Congressional Republicans, and an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. By naming Ford as vice president, Laird and Barlow hope to head off any impeachment vote by that committee. On October 10, Laird phoned Ford and, according to Laird’s later recollection, said: “Jerry, you’re going to get a call from Al Haig [Nixon’s chief of staff]. I don’t want any bullsh_t from you. Don’t hesitate. Don’t talk to Betty [Ford, his wife]. Say yes.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Nelson Rockefeller, Spiro T. Agnew, Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, John Connally, Howard Baker, Bryce Harlow, Hugh Scott, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Ford, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Judiciary Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Ford discusses media reports of a feared coup attempt or unauthorized nuclear strike in the final days of the Nixon presidency (see August 22, 1974) with his ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (see August 25, 1974). Ford believes the leak that formed the basis of the story came from the “highest level of the Pentagon,” but he is unaware that Schlesinger is most likely the leaker. He is also unaware of the hornet’s nest of bureaucratic rivalries involved in the situation. Ford knows nothing of the strained relations between the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff going back to the Moorer-Radford spy affair (see December 1971), nor of Haig’s blurred loyalties and his network of connections between the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the White House. Ford is distressed by the stories, and furious when Haig assures him that the story is false—no such measures had been taken.
Implications of a Secret Deal - Ford worries most that the story will escalate into a whirlwind of media speculation about the nation being “at the brink” during Nixon’s final days, and more to the point, the media and the citizenry may begin speculating about the possibility that he took over the White House as part of some sort of secret deal. Ford also knows that such an extraordinary leak three weeks into his presidency is a direct insult to his own position. Ford orders Schlesinger to straighten out the entire mess right away.
Haig Also Involved? - Although Schlesinger denies his involvement in the stories, his credibility in this matter is wanting. And, if the stories are indeed true, then Haig must have been involved as well. Indeed, former Nixon aide Charles Colson will later write that Haig himself initiated the reported military watch, asking the Pentagon to disregard any order from Nixon. Like Schlesinger, Haig denies any part in the Pentagon watch, and calls the idea of a military coup of any stripe “an insult to the armed forces.” Haig will later accuse the so-called “countergovernment”—Congress, the courts, and the press—of successfully engaging in their own coup of sorts, in combining to drive both Nixon and former Vice President Spiro Agnew (see October 10, 1973) from office. But Haig has also dropped dark hints of his own to reporters about “dangers to the country deeper than Watergate,” and has spoken about the threat of “extra-constitutional” steps during Nixon’s last days.
Presidential Denial - Publicly, Ford, through press secretary Jerald terHorst, tells the press that “no measures of this nature were actually undertaken.” Questions about whether any requests for a military watch, or other such preparations, were ever made to forestall a military coup are referred to the Pentagon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 191-193]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Spiro T. Agnew, Jerald terHorst, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Charles Colson, National Security Council, James R. Schlesinger, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned after pleading no contest to tax evasion charges (see October 10, 1973), serves as the intermediary in a complex $181 million deal arranged by former Nixon aides to sell military uniforms to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. According to historian Stephen Ambrose, the deal is arranged by former President Richard Nixon, who recommended the deal to the supplier of the uniforms, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. [New York Times, 9/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Nicolae Ceausescu, Spiro T. Agnew, Stephen Ambrose, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A Maryland taxpayers’ civil suit finds that former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned over bribery and tax fraud charges eight years before (see April 10, 1973 and October 10, 1973), had solicited $147,500 in bribes as Baltimore county executive and as governor of Maryland, and that as vice president he had accepted $17,500 of that sum in cash while in office. [Time, 9/30/1996] Agnew’s former lawyer George White admits outside of the courtroom that Agnew had not only admitted taking bribes while governor, but told White that such behavior had been going on “for a thousand years.” White is freed to discuss privileged lawyer-client communications because of Agnew’s public assertions of his innocence in his recently published memoirs, Go Quietly… Or Else. White’s revelations fuel the civil suit that finds Agnew indeed took bribes while governor and vice president. [New York Times, 9/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, George White

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Spiro T. Agnew, the Republican vice president who resigned his office after pleading no contest to tax evasion charges (see October 10, 1973), dies of leukemia in his home state of Maryland. Former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan recalls Agnew’s “raw political courage” for serving as “the voice of the silent majority” during the Nixon administration, and says: “Of all those caught up—on both sides—in the American tragedy of 1973-1974 [Watergate], Spiro Agnew was one of the good guys.… At a time when the establishment was craven in pandering to rioters and demonstrators, Spiro Agnew told the truth.” Buchanan helped write some of Agnew’s most inflammatory speeches (see 1969-1971). Other Republicans also laud Agnew, even though for twenty years Agnew has had virtually no contact with any of his former Republican confrerees. “Spiro Agnew earned the support of millions of his countrymen because he was never afraid to speak out and stand up for America,” says Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), the Republican candidate for president. “He minced no words when patriotism and military service were ridiculed.” And former President George H.W. Bush says of Agnew: “He was a friend. I loved his family.” Former Democratic senator and World War II veteran George McGovern, whose courage and patriotism was harshly attacked by Agnew during the 1972 presidential campaign, says, “Some of the things he said during his lifetime were extreme and regrettable, but nonetheless I mourn his passing.” Former Nixon speechwriter Vic Gold is perhaps the most rhapsodic, saying of Agnew, “He was the John the Baptist of the Reagan revolution.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996; Knight Ridder, 9/19/1996] Reporter Sandy Grady is less forgiving. “Agnew was a small-time pol who became the most blatant crook to sit one heartbeat away from the presidency,” he writes. “He was a demagogue ranting ghost-written bile that split Americans amid the war and fires of the ‘60s. But political peers, sensing in Agnew’s tumble their own fragility, always treated Spiro as gently as a museum vase.” [Knight Ridder, 9/19/1996] Historian Allan Lichtman observes, “He will always stand as one of the symbols of the corruption that undermined the Nixon administration.” Fellow historian Joan Huff, author of a biography of Nixon, dismisses Agnew as “a tiny blip in history.” [Greensboro News & Record, 9/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Joan Huff, George S. McGovern, Victor (“Vic”) Gold, Allan Lichtman, Spiro T. Agnew, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Sandy Grady

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Domestic Propaganda

1996 Dole presidential campaign button.1996 Dole presidential campaign button. [Source: Dole Institute]Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter uses the occasion of former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s death (see September 17, 1996) to condemn the “wedge politics” of Agnew’s heyday (see 1969-1971). “Agnew led Richard Nixon’s campaign to win suburbia for Republicanism by exploiting white middle class anger at the poor, college antiwar activists, and the ‘liberal Eastern media’,” Alter writes. But “Spiro Agnew is gone, and the wedge politics he honed aren’t cutting for the GOP this year.” Agnew’s “politics of polarization” do not work anymore, Alter observes, but adds that Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole is still trying to use Agnew-like tactics in his own campaign to defeat incumbent Bill Clinton. Dole echoes Agnew’s language (see 1969-1971) in calling Clinton’s White House “a corps of elite who never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered.” Dole, writes Alter, is “still working from the 1968 playbook.” [Newsweek, 9/30/1996]

Entity Tags: Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Jonathan Alter, Spiro T. Agnew, Clinton administration, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Shawn Parry-Giles.Shawn Parry-Giles. [Source: University of Maryland]Communications professor Shawn Parry-Giles says that she hears echoes of the rhetoric of former Vice President Spiro Agnew in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s speeches about Iraq (see 1969-1971). Parry-Giles says: “Spiro T. Agnew’s resignation is often lost in the turmoil surrounding the painful events of Watergate (see October 10, 1973). Yet his campaign against the US news media during the Vietnam War still resonates, especially among those who covered the war. In a recent press conference… Rumsfeld emphasized all the good that has come from the US efforts in that war torn country. In listening to his press conference, I heard echoes of… Agnew’s famous line: ‘In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.’ If the war in Iraq continues on its current trajectory, we might expect the spirit of Agnew to rise once again, as the Bush administration reminds the US news media and the [D]emocratic presidential candidates that in times of international conflict, we are to remain unified.” [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, Donald Rumsfeld, Shawn Parry-Giles, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Nixon and Watergate

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells her listeners that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) proves his 2012 re-election campaign will hinge on race. After playing a montage of audio clips from commentators accusing Obama of racism, or saying that his campaign will focus on race, she tells her audience: “It’s official. The Obama campaign is going to run on race. No? They might not say that, but let there be no misunderstanding of where this is going. This is going right to the heart of liberalism. Liberals see people, not as individuals who are capable of anything if given the opportunity, and freed up and loosened from the bonds of government regulation and bureaucratic restraints. No. They see people as a certain color, or a certain gender, or a certain sexual orientation. They have to be put in these boxes. The favorites boxes of the bean counters. Liberals have always looked at people that way. The truth about race, and this president, is not a pretty truth.… The truth about this administration and race goes right to the core of what liberalism has done to the black family, to minorities in general. The great diversion of liberalists has always been to drop the charges of racism, the spurious and the negative and the perjorative charges of racism [against conservatives], every time they are proven to be incorrect and the way they approach a problem” (see September 4, 1949, and After, March 12, 1956 and After, 1969-1971, 1978-1996, 1980, 1981, March 15, 1982, 1983, June-September 1988, 1990, September 1995, August 16, 1998, March 1-2, 2001, August 29, 2001, March 15, 2002, July 15, 2002, August 2002, September 26, 2002 and After, August 5, 2003, September 28 - October 2, 2003, May 17, 2004, May 18, 2004, October 9-13, 2004, November 15, 2004, November 26, 2004, December 5-8, 2004, December 8, 2004, May 10, 2005, September 28-October 1, 2005, September 30 - October 1, 2005, September 30, 2005, 2006, March 29, 2006, December 2006, January 19, 2007 and After, January 24, 2007, April 2007, April 2, 2007, July 22, 2007, August 21, 2007, September 22, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 24, 2008, January 6-11, 2008, November 10, 2008, January 25, 2008, January 31, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 28, 2008, May 19, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 26, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 4, 2008, August 4, 2008, August 19, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 20, 2008, October 22, 2008, October 28, 2008, November 18, 2008, January 18, 2009, February 24-26, 2009, March 3, 2009, April 7-8, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 31, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 5, 2009, June 7, 2009, June 12, 2009, June 20, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 19, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, October 13, 2009, February 25, 2010, March 20, 2010, July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, September 11, 2010, September 12, 2010, September 12, 2010 and After, September 15, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 21, 2010, September 24, 2010, October 22-23, 2010, November 9, 2010, November 12, 2010, December 22, 2010, January 14, 2011, February 20, 2011, March 2011, March 19-24, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 5, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 15, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 28, 2011). Liberals, Ingraham says, rely on racial politics, divisiveness, and “class warfare” to succeed in the political arena. “[I]n the end,” she says, “it’s kind of all they have, that and abortion.” She derides people “on the left” for attacking billionaire television host and enthusiastic “birther” Donald Trump for being racist (see April 14-15, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 28, 2011). Any such charges, she says, are ridiculous. But those charges will be used by anyone who criticizes Trump for his challenge to Obama’s citizenship, she predicts, and cites Trump’s recent exhortation for Obama to “get off the basketball court” and focus on national issues as an example of an unfair charge of racism (see April 27, 2011). “And the very thing the left always starts to accuse the right of is what they are most guilty of,” she says. [Media Matters, 4/28/2011] Ingraham has had her own issues with racism and gender (see 1984, April 1997, and July 17, 2009).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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