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2012 Isabelle Hermalyn Award of New York Urban History presented by the Bronx County Historical Society
Brings to life the dramatic and colorful career of William Sulzer (1863–1941), former governor of New York State.
In The Impeachment of Governor Sulzer, Matthew L. Lifflander brings to life the dramatic story of a forgotten incident in New York State political history. When William Sulzer was elected to the office of governor of New York State in November 1912, it represented the culmination of a long and successful career in politics. The son of a German immigrant father and a Scotch-Irish American mother, Sulzer (1863–1941) rose through the powerful Tammany Hall machine to become the youngest man ever to serve as speaker of the New York State Assembly. In 1894, he was elected to Congress, where he served with distinction for eighteen years, rising to chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. When he became governor, it was with the support of the Tammany Hall machine, and everyone expected that he would duly perform his duties under the direction of Tammany boss Charles F. Murphy.
Political reform and the corrupt influence of political machines were significant issues of the day, however, and shortly after Sulzer’s election he began to project a populist “man of the people” image, announcing that he “belonged to no man.” After he rejected some of Murphy’s recommendations for key appointments and initiated investigations into corrupt state officials—many of them with Tammany connections—it was decided that he was a threat to the party bosses and had to be removed. Incredibly, less than a year after his election to the highest office in New York State, Sulzer had been impeached and removed.
In addition to shedding light on the career of one of the most interesting and colorful figures in American political history, The Impeachment of Governor Sulzer explores legal, moral, and political issues that continue to this day, including pervasive questions about money and politics.
“Lifflander unveils the ugly truth of bought and paid for public officials in this political biography of New York’s only impeached governor … Recalling the draconian days of political warfare, Lifflander describes how the party machine functioned by delivering votes, mostly immigrants fresh off the boat, in exchange for patronage.” — Sacramento Book Review
“…The Impeachment of Governor Sulzer is an enthralling, action-packed, crisply written book that ardent politicos and lovers of literature alike will savor. Lifflander deserves a debt of gratitude for rediscovering this important and illuminating chapter in our state’s history.” — City and State
“Matt Lifflander has illuminated a little-known but compelling drama from American history, how the governor of the then largest, most powerful state was driven from office. In the telling he reveals in suspenseful style how rough-and-tumble politics worked in New York State in another era. Yet, the lessons are not lost in the current political climate and apply not only to that state.” — Joseph E. Persico, author of Roosevelt’s Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II
“A full, modern biography of New York Governor William Sulzer is long overdue. In this biographer’s capable hands, the book provides fresh and valuable insights into his impeachment while offering a lively narrative of an uncommon life. This volume fills a gap in New York state political history while providing a fascinating portrait of a man who experienced the highs and lows of elected office.” — Paul Grondahl, author of Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma
A longtime political insider, Matthew L. Lifflander began his career in Albany as assistant counsel to Governor W. Averell Harriman, where he first became acquainted with the story of Governor William Sulzer. As special counsel to the speaker of the New York State Assembly, he drafted laws that enhanced state tourism as a vital economic development program, including the world-famous “I Love NY” campaign. He was also instrumental in drafting the state’s campaign finance reform legislation, and has served as finance chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, headed New York State fundraising for Democratic presidential candidates, and managed presidential and gubernatorial campaigns in New York State. He is currently counsel for SNR Denton US, LLP, andresides in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Prologue: Meeting Governor Sulzer
1. Inauguration Day
2. A Rural Childhood
3. Studying Law
4. Sulzer’s Great Adventure
5. Building a Law Practice
6. Politics Rears Its Head
7. A Connected Assemblyman
8. Assemblyman Rising
9. The Congressional Years
10. The Tragedy That Changed New York
11. Selecting Congressman Sulzer
12. Sulzer’s Second Day as Governor
13. Mr. Murphy
14. The Secret of Tammany’s Power (And what was done with it)