Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Elliot L. Richardson (1973): Attorney General

Elliot Lee Richardson was born July 20, 1920, in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned an A.B. cum laude (1941) and LL.B. cum laude (1947) from Harvard University. Richardson was both an associate and partner in the Boston law firm of Ropes and Gray. He was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1965 to 1967 and Massachusetts attorney general from 1967 to 1969.

President Richard Nixon appointed him secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1970. Richardson also served the Nixon administration as secretary of Defense (January to May 1973), and Attorney General (May to October 1973). In this last role, President Nixon fired Richardson, as part of what became known as the "Saturday night massacre," for refusing to fire Watergate Independent Counsel Archibald Cox, on the direct order of the President.

A key symbol of Republican honesty and moderation, Richardson was immediately sought by the Ford administration. President Ford named him ambassador to Britain in 1975 and secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977. Richardson continued to serve in the administration of Jimmy Carter as a special representative for the Law of the Sea Conference from 1977 to 1980.

Following government service, Richardson worked as a partner with the law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy. He died in 1999.