[WILLIAM SULZER FOUND GUILTY = WILL BE REMOVED, BUT NOT DISQUALIFIED Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Oct 17, 1913]
On October 17th, 1913, Rochestarians opened the Democrat and Chronicle to read that New York Governor William Sulzer was convicted at his state senate impeachment trial, and removed from office. Unanimously, the Senate did not vote for Sulzer’s disqualification from future office.
This weekend, we are very likely to not see a similar D & C headline; almost surely former President Trump will be acquitted in his senate impeachment trial. And if somehow convicted, Trump, unlike Sulzer, would almost certainly be disqualified (although a few did advocate a compromise in which Trump is convicted to set a constitutional precedent but not disqualified to avoid the appearance of partisan vindictiveness).
Concurrently, we are hearing calls that Governor Andrew Cuomo should be impeached for his potential role in covering up unreported covid deaths in nursing homes. Impeaching and removing Cuomo is unlikely, but his detractors no doubt would like to read the kind of headline blared by the D & C in 1913.
In the history of New York, Sulzer is the only Governor to be impeached — for embezzling his own campaign funds for personal use after serving fewer than 10 months in office. Historian Jack O’Donnell, author of Bitten by the Tiger - The True Story of Impeachment, The Governor & Tammany Hall (2013), argues that the state’s impetus for ousting the governor was more of a fight for political power as Sulzer clashed with Tammany Hall from the very beginning of his term.
While the circumstances of Trump and Sultzer are very different, the headlines and reports of the D & C would look familiar today — although “horse thief” might be updated to “carjacker.”
During Trump’s tenure, we heard the term “political lynching.”
As described by Wikipedia, Sulzer’s impeachment and trial were filled with twists and turns:
“In May 1913, the state legislature established a Joint Committee to investigate the financial conduct of state institutions, chaired by Senator James J. Frawley, a loyal Tammany Hall Democrat. In the summer of 1913 this committee, using Tammany-provided information, accused Sulzer of diverting campaign contributions to purchase stocks for himself and perjuring himself under oath. Sulzer and his supporters averred that the charges were made under instructions from Murphy in order to remove Sulzer as an obstacle to Tammany Hall. Many historians have corroborated Sulzer’s version of events. Sulzer also questioned the constitutionality of the committee itself. But as evidence emerged regarding his use of campaign funds, he began to lose the support of the national Democratic Party.
On August 11, 1913, the Frawley committee announced its findings to the state legislature, and moves began towards impeachment, managed by Tammany Hall’s legislative leaders, Al Smith and Robert Wagner. Sulzer’s only support came from Progressive legislators, who were too few to slow the process down. Over the next two days, Sulzer attempted to obstruct the impeachment at every turn but was powerless to stop it, as Smith and Wagner maintained control of their respective houses.
In a last-minute attempt to prevent impeachment, the Governor’s wife admitted to having been responsible for the theft of campaign funds. The Governor’s allies attempted to postpone proceedings based on the new evidence, but were unsuccessful and the decision came to a vote.
On August 13, 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 New York 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 hand over power to Glynn. Beginning August 21, Glynn began signing documents as “Acting Governor” despite Sulzer’s refusal.
On September 18, Sulzer’s trial before the Impeachment Court began in Albany. Sulzer called upon Louis Marshall to head his defense team; Marshall agreed but confided in his wife that he was not enthusiastic about the outcome.The trial did not go well; Sulzer did not even testify in his own defense.
On the afternoon of October 16, the court convicted Sulzer on three of the Articles of Impeachment: 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 court voted 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.”
In defeat, Sulzer remained popular with his followers. A crowd of 10,000 gathered outside the Executive Mansion on the night Sulzer and his wife left Albany. As the article says, Sulzer already had lucrative lecture offers.
In The Boss or the Governor (1914), Samuel Bell Thomas, a New York lawyer who defended Sulzer during his impeachment, provided an exchange between the former governor and the crowd.
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.
As Sulzer was not disqualified, he continued his political career.
Just a few weeks after the impeachment, Sulzer was elected on the Progressive ticket to the New York State Assembly. In the Election of 1916, Sulzer was the Presidential nominee of the American Party.
I’ve been unable to determine how many votes were cast for Sulzer.