William Sulzer had been elected Governor as a Democrat in 1913. He promptly took on state corruption and, just as promptly, offended the Tammany Hall machine and was impeached before the end of his first year in office -- the only New York governor to have been impeached. While he did not win re-election as a Prohibition candidate, he made sure that the Tammany-backed candidate lost as well.
Sulzer ran as a fusion candidate with the backing, also, of the American Party.
SULZER, William, (brother of Charles August Sulzer), a Representative from New York; born in Elizabeth, N.J., March 18, 1863; attended the public schools and Columbia College, New York City; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1884 and commenced practice in New York City; member of the State assembly 1889-1894; speaker in 1893; delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1892, 1896, 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912; elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-fourth and to the eight succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1895, to December 31, 1912; chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (Sixty-second Congress); resigned, having been elected Governor of New York for the term commencing January 1, 1913, and served until October 18, 1913, when he was removed from office; elected as an independent to the State assembly November 4, 1913; independent candidate for Governor in 1914; declined the nomination for President in 1916 by the American Party; engaged in the practice of law in New York City until his death there November 6, 1941; interment in Evergreen Cemetery, Hillside, N.J.
William Sulzer was born on March 18, 1863, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the son of German and Scots-Irish parents. He was educated in public schools and studied law at Columbia College.
He was admitted to the bar in 1884 and began practicing in New York City. Immediately, he became invlved in politics via the Democratic Party. In 1884, he acted as a campaign speaker promoting Grover Cleveland’s presidential campaign; in 1889, he won election to the New York State Assembly and was a member of the State Assembly from 1890 to 1894. In 1893, he served as Speaker of the State Assembly.
In 1893, he was elected as a member of Congress, being a Member from 1894 until 1912 and in 1910- 1912 being chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Sulzer gained a reputation as one of the "progressive" Democrats in Congress. He supported the passage of federal labor laws, supported the creation of an 8-hour workday, and supported the creation of the Department of Labor.
In foreign affairs, Sulzer opposed U.S. intervention in the Mexican Revolution, supported the Cuban Independence movement, introduced a resolution supporting the Boer Republics in their conflicts against the British Empire, introduced a resolution supporting the 1911 Chinese Revolution (which overthrew the last Chinese Imperial Dynasty and resulted in the creation of the Republic of China), repeatedly introduced resolutions condemning Russia for its persecution of its Jewish population, and supported efforts to pressure the Russian Government into accepting American passports issued to Jewish-Americans.
Sulzer was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1892, 1896, 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912. In 1912, Sulzer was nominated by the Democratic Party as its candidate for Governor of New York. Elected, he bucked the Tammany machine and was forced out of office after only a few months.
The Tammany Hall political machine had long been a major force in New York City and New York State politics, especially in regards to New York’s Democratic Party. They were notorious for corruption and for using their influence to advance their own interests. The leader of Tammany Hall at the time, Charles F. Murphey, had hoped that Sulzer would go along with serving Tammany’s interests. Instead, Sulzer turned against Tammany Hall. He refused to appoint people to state positions that Murphy wanted to be appointed, launched anti-corruption investigations into the state government’s legislative and executive branches, had several Tammany politicians investigated for graft, and tried to pass an open primary law. Tammany Hall retaliated by having its people in the State Assembly launch an investigation against Sulzer. They used the fact that Sulzer hadn’t completely reported all his campaign donations as grounds for impeaching him. He was the first, and so far only, governor of New York to be removed from office.
After Sulzer was removed from the governor’s office, he left the Democratic Party but continued his political career. He ran as a Progressive Party candidate for state assembly in the fall of 1913 and was elected. In 1914, he launched another campaign for governor. As part of this effort, he gathered a group of his followers to form the American Party (1914-1917) and petitioned to get on the ballot.
Sulzer was in favor of prohibition. He sought and received the Prohibition Party nomination for governor in 1914 in addition to that of his own American Party. He received 126,270 votes, 8.77% of the total vote. He received 70,655 votes on the American party ballot line, 54,189 on the Prohibition Party ballot line, and 1,426 write-in votes. While he did not win back the governorship, his strong performance helped to make sure that his Tammany Hall-backed replacement Governor Martin Glynn lost: Republican Charles Whitman was elected as the next Governor of New York.
Sulzer continued his involvement with the Prohibition Party after 1914 as well as with the American Party. On February 22, 1916, Sulzer delivered a speech in favor of prohibition in Pittsburg, PA. In it, he contended that alcohol was harmful to users, families, and communities, was destructive to life, damaged the economy, drove up poverty, drove up taxes to cover the cost of the damages caused, and was overall damaging to people and society. He contended that temperance and prohibitionist policies were key to addressing the problem of alcohol, and that such policies would benefit people in a variety of ways; including improved public health, the prevention of unnecessary harm and death, improved economic conditions, and greater opportunity for the public. He additionally contended that supporting prohibition was rightful and courageous. “When they ask you why I am for prohibition, you tell them because I have the courage of my convictions; because I am against intemperance; because I do not straddle a fundamental principle; because I will not be a hypocrite; because I love my fellow man; because I believe the time has come for the government to get out of the liquor business”.
In 1916, Sulzer was one of several candidates seeking the Prohibition Party nomination for president; in the end, the nomination was won by the former Indiana governor J. Frank Hanley. Sulzer also considered running for president as the American Party candidate but decided not to do so. He did, however, continue to be involved with the American Party.
The American Party ran a slate of statewide candidates in the 1916 election. It didn’t get enough votes to retain statewide ballot access and appears to have disbanded after 1917.
Sulzer thereafter left politics and returned to his work as a lawyer. He would also spend time writing and speaking about the Baha’i religion.
Sulzer died on November 6, 1941, and was buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, New Jersey.
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-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley