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William Sulzer (March 18, 1863 Elizabethmarker, Union County, New Jerseymarker – November 6, 1941 New York Citymarker) was an American lawyer and politician, nicknamed Plain Bill Sulzer. He was Governor of New York in 1913, and a long-serving congressman from the same state. He was the first and so far only New York Governor to be impeached. His brother Charles August Sulzer served in Congress as a delegate from the Territory of Alaska.

Early life and political career

He attended the public schools and graduated from Columbia College. Then he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1884, and commenced practice in New York Citymarker.

He was a member from New York Countymarker of the New York State Assembly from 1889 to 1894, and was Speaker in 1893. He was also as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1892, 1896, 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912.

He was elected to the Fifty-fourth United States Congress, and served as a U.S. Representative from New Yorkmarker in the eight succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1895, to December 31, 1912. In the Sixty-second United States Congress he chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He resigned from Congress effective December 31, 1912, having been elected Governor of New York in November 1912 for the term beginning on January 1, 1913.


A few months into his term, Sulzer was alleged to have diverted campaign contributions to his own use and to have lied. Sulzer had enjoyed Tammany Hall support as the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1912, but he quickly drew the ire of the powerful leader of that New York Citymarker organization, Charles F. Murphy, by refusing to accept party instructions on appointments, by seeking primary elections rather than nominating by convention, and other actions. One of the appointments that Sulzer refused to make was that of James E. Gaffney, owner of the 1914 "Miracle" Braves, to State Commissioner of Highways. Sulzer and many historians later affirmed that the impeachment charges were made under instructions from Murphy, to remove him as an obstacle to Tammany Hall's influence in State politics.

On August 13, 1913, the New York Assembly voted to impeach Governor Sulzer, by a vote of 79 to 45. Sulzer was served with a summons to appear before the Court for the Trial of Impeachments, and Lieutenant Governor Martin H. Glynn was empowered to act in his place pending the outcome of the trial. However, Sulzer maintained that the proceedings against him were unconstitutional and refused to vacate his office. Both Sulzer and Glynn claimed to be Governor. Lt.Gov. Glynn began signing documents as "Acting Governor" beginning on August 21.

The trial of Governor William Sulzer before the Impeachment Court began in in Albanymarker on September 18. The court convicted Sulzer on three of the Articles of Impeachment on the afternoon of October 16, finding him guilty of filing a false report with the Secretary of State concerning his campaign contributions, committing perjury, and advising another person to commit perjury before an Assembly committee. The following day, the court voted on a resolution to remove Sulzer from office. On October 17, 1913, Sulzer was removed by the same margin, a vote of 43-12, and Lt. Gov. Glynn succeeded to the governorship.

According to the hagiographic 1914 book, The Boss or the Governor, by Samuel Bell Thomas, a crowd of 10,000 gathered outside the Executive Mansion on the night Governor Sulzer left Albany, leading to an exchange as follows:

Mr. Sulzer: "My friends, this is a stormy night. It is certainly very good of you to come here to bid Mrs. Sulzer and me good-bye."
A voice from the crowd: "You will come back, Bill, next year."
Mr. Sulzer: "You know why we are going away."
A voice: "Because you were too honest."
Mr. Sulzer: "I impeach the criminal conspirators, these looters and grafters, for stealing the taxpayers' money. That is what I never did."
From the crowd: Cheers.
Mr. Sulzer: "Yes my friends, I know that the court of public opinion before long will reverse the judgement of Murphy's 'court of infamy.'"
From the crowd: Cheers.
Mr. Sulzer: "Posterity will do me justice. Time sets all things right. I shall be patient."
From the crowd: Cheers.

Some in Albanymarker maintained that he was impeached unfairly, as he had been the first person ever to have been impeached for acts committed before taking office. There have been several pieces of legislation introduced in the New York State Assembly and Senate to have his political record repaired. None have been successful to date.

William Sulzer's official portrait is the only one of a Governor of New York that does not hang in the "Hall of Governors," the main hallway leading to the Executive Chamber, located within the New York State Capitol in Albanymarker.

Later life and political career

Sulzer was able to recover somewhat politically. He was subsequently elected as an independent to the New York State Assembly on November 4, 1913, just a month later. He stood as the Prohibition and American Parties' candidate for Governor in 1914, and in 1916 he declined the nomination for President of the United States by the American Party.

He engaged in the practice of law in New York City until his death there November 6, 1941, aged 78. He was interred at the Evergreen Cemeterymarker in Hillside, New Jerseymarker.

In Popular Culture

William Sulzer's story is said to be the basis for the 1940 Preston Sturges film "The Great McGinty".



  3. "Sulzer and Glynn Keep on Playing a Waiting Game," Syracuse Herald, August 21, 1913, p1
  5. "HIGH COURT REMOVES SULZER FROM OFFICE BY A VOTE OF 43 TO 12", Syracuse Herald, October 17, 1913, p1

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