William Sulzer

39th Governor, January 1, 1913-October 17, 1913
William Sulzer

William “Plain Bill” Sulzer (1863–1941) was the first and only governor to be impeached. Prior to taking office, Sulzer served in the State Assembly and for eight terms in the United States House of Representatives. Elected governor with the support of Tammany Hall, he angered its leader, Charles F. Murphy, when he distanced himself from Tammany’s influence and supported primary elections. With Tammany’s encouragement, the State Assembly voted to impeach Sulzer on October 17, 1913. Convicted by a special court, Sulzer returned to New York City, but a month later was again elected to the State Assembly.

Painted portrait of William Sulzer.
About the Artist

Portrait: Leo Mielziner (1869–1935) was born in New York and became interested in art as a young man. He traveled to Paris where he established a career as a notable portrait artist, and lived with his family in Paris, New York, Cape Cod, and New Hampshire. On loan from The New York Historical Society. Gift of the Honorable William Sulzer.


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From the Encyclopedia of New York State

Sulzer, William (b Elizabeth, NJ, 18 Mar 1863; d Manhattan, 6 Nov 1941). Governor.


Born of German and Scotch-Irish parents, Sulzer studied law at Columbia and passed the bar exam in 1884. After joining Tammany Hall, he represented an East Side district in Manhattan in the New York State Assembly from 1890 to 1894 and was Speaker in 1893. In November 1894 he was elected to the US Congress and served until 1912. He supported progressive labor legislation, opposed (as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1910 to 1912) intervention in the Mexican Revolution, and supported efforts to force the Russian government to honor American passports issued to Jews. Elected governor of New York State in November 1912 with Tammany support, he then broke with Tammany, had several Tammany politicians investigated for graft, and pushed for an open primary law. On 13 Aug 1913 Tammany boss Charles F. Murphy had the assembly impeach Sulzer, notably for filing false campaign contribution records. Indeed, Sulzer had not reported about $60,000 in contributions and had used $40,000 of that money to play the stock market. He was found guilty on 17 October and removed from office. Anti-Tammany outrage was strong, and the following November Sulzer was elected assemblyman for the Progressive Party. Failing to gain that party’s nomination for governor in 1914, he was nominated by the American Party, a short-lived party founded in 1914 by independent Democrats in New York State, and endorsed by the Prohibition Party.Receiving only 126,270 votes out of 1.49 million cast, he withdrew from active politics, declining the American Party’s nomination for president in 1916. He lived in Greenwich Village in Manhattan and practiced law.


Biographical Directory of the US Congress, http:// bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index= S001065

Dunne, John R., and Michael A. L. Balboni, “New York’s Impeachment Law and the Trial of Governor William Sulzer: A Case for Reform,” Fordham Urban Law Journal 15 (1986–87): 567–93

Wesser, Robert F. “Impeachment of a Governor: William Sulzer and the Politics of Excess,” New York History 60 (Oct 1979): 407–38

Thomas Reimer


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1506].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.