Governor Sulzer Impeached
On October 17, 1913, William Sulzer became the first (and so far the only) governor of New York to be impeached. This exhibit recognizes the one hundredth anniversary of Sulzer's impeachment by highlighting a few items from the New York State Library's special collections that are related to the event:
- a portrait of William Sulzer (right);
- a letter Sulzer wrote to his friend, Judge Irving Vann, in August 1913 asking for Vann's help in preparing his defense; and
- a 1914 newspaper article that noted Vann said he was not to be paid extra for the work he did because it was part of his job.
William "Plain Bill" Sulzer (1863–1941) served in the State Assembly and for eight terms in the United States House of Representatives. In 1913 he became the 39th governor of New York State.
Sulzer was elected governor in November of 1912 with the support of Tammany Hall. However, shortly after being sworn in as governor on January 1, 1913, Sulzer angered Tammany's 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.
Sulzer was convicted by a special court and removed from office on October 17, 1913. As a result, the lieutenant governor, Martin H. Glynn, became governor. Sulzer returned to New York City, but a month later was again elected to the State Assembly.
Irving Goodwin Vann was born on his parents' farm at Willow Creek in the town of Ulysses, Tompkins County, New York, on January 3, 1842. He died at his home in Syracuse on March 22, 1921.
Initially pursuing a career in education, Vann became a high school principal and teacher in Owensboro, Kentucky. In the fall of 1864, he entered Albany Law School, graduating in the spring of 1865. Upon his graduation, Vann accepted a position at the Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C. In less than a year, however, he returned home to central New York, joining the law firm of Raynor & Butler in Syracuse. Thus began an illustrious career in private practice and as a judge in New York State courts, including 16 years on the New York State Court of Appeals.
In 1913 Vann, with D-Cady Herrick [sic] and others, defended Governor William Sulzer during his impeachment trials. Although involved in the preparation of the defense, poor health prevented Vann from being present at the actual court proceedings. After the trial Vann refused to accept any payment for his work, claiming that since he was already an employee of the state, further remuneration was not required.
The Irving G. Vann Papers (SC11393) in the Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the New York State Library contain a quantity of material related to the impeachment of Governor William Sulzer in 1913. A scrapbook, in Box 3, contains
- clippings from New York State newspapers, at least two of which are in German, about the impeachment case;
- correspondence between lawyers on the case, and between the lawyers and Governor Sulzer; and
- typescript copies of telegrams in support of Governor Sulzer that were sent to him in August 1913.
A copy of the Court of Impeachment Testimony, which contains the arguments, witnesses, and exhibits from the trial, is in Box 2.
The Library also has the Papers of Martin Henry Glynn, 1913-1924 (SC21255), who became governor after Sulzer was impeached.
For related materials search on "sulzer impeachment" in the New York State Library's online catalog.