Just prior to the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, Richardson was portrayed as a cartoon figure with Agnew and Nixon on the cover of TIME magazine dated October 8, 1973. Agnew was quoted as saying: "I am innocent of the charges against me. I will not resign if indicted!"
Richardson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, served in the US Army from 1941 to 1945, and obtained his law degree from Harvard in 1947. He clerked to Judge Learned Hand and then to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1970, Richard Nixon selected Richardson to be Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1973, Nixon selected Richardson to become Secretary of the Department of Defense — where he served in this position from January to May of 1973. With the increasing tension due to Watergate and the resignation of John Mitchell, Richardson was tapped to become United States Attorney General — a position he held from May 24, 1973 to October 1973.
In October, 1973, President Nixon ordered Richardson to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox; Richardson refused this order and resigned. At that point, William Ruckelshaus, the Deputy Attorney General was asked to carry out the order, and he refused and resigned as well. The third in command, Robert Bork, carried out this order. The events are generally referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Richardson is the only individual to date to serve as head of four Cabinet Departments in the US Government — Health, Education and Welfare; Defense; Justice and Commerce.