History of Impeachment

New York’s 39th Governor, William Sulzer, was impeached by the New York State Legislature and removed from office in 1913. When first elected he proposed a series of reforms, including investigations into corruption in both the state legislature and the executive branch.

Article 6, Section 24 of the New York State Constitution provides the state legislature with the authority to impeach the governor. Impeaching the governor requires a simple majority vote of the New York State Assembly and a two-thirds majority vote in the New York State Senate.

[Court for trial of impeachments; judgment]

  • 24. The assembly shall have the power of impeachment by a vote of a majority of all the members elected thereto. The court for the trial of impeachments shall be composed of the president of the senate, the senators, or the major part of them, and the judges of the court of appeals, or the major part of them. On the trial of an impeachment against the governor or lieutenant-governor, neither the lieutenant- governor nor the temporary president of the senate shall act as a member of the court. No judicial officer shall exercise his or her office after articles of impeachment against him or her shall have been preferred to the senate, until he or she shall have been acquitted. Before the trial of an impeachment, the members of the court shall take an oath or affirmation truly and impartially to try the impeachment according to the evidence, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present. Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, or removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any public office of honor, trust, or profit under this state; but the party impeached shall be liable to indictment and punishment according to law. (Amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

William SulzerWilliam Sulzer

39th Governor of New York State
In office: January 1, 1913 – October 17, 1913


That summer the Frawley committee, using Tammany-provided information, accused Sulzer of having diverted campaign contributions to purchase stocks for himself and to have lied under oath in regards to it. Sulzer, his supporters and many historians later affirmed that the impeachment charges were made under instructions from Murphy, to remove him as an obstacle to Tammany Hall’s influence in state politics. Sulzer’s opposition to the committee was based on questioning its constitutionality, but as evidence was raised over the use of campaign funds, he began to lose the support of the national Democratic Party, Theodore Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst.

On August 11, 1913 the findings of the Frawley committee were announced to the state legislature, and moves began towards impeachment, managed by Tammany Hall’s legislative leaders. The only support Sulzer had was in the Progressive legislators, who were too few to slow the process down.  Over the next two days the Governor opposed the secession at every term but was powerless to stop it, as Al Smith and Robert F. Wagner, Sr. 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, while the minority in the state Assembly allied to the Governor attempted to postpone proceedings based on the new evidence, but were unsuccessful and the decision came to a vote.

On August 13, 1913, 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 vacate his office.  Both Sulzer and Glynn claimed to be Governor. Lt.Gov. Glynn began signing documents as “Acting Governor” beginning on August 21.

The trial of Sulzer before the Impeachment Court began in Albany on September 18. Sulzer had called upon Louis Marshall to head his defense team and Marshall agreed, telling his wife that he was not enthusiastic about the outcome.  The trial did not go well; Sulzer didn’t even testify in his own defense. The court convicted Sulzer on three of the Articles of Impeachment on the afternoon of October 16, finding him guilty of 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 following day, the court voted on a resolution 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.

Info via: Wikipedia.org

NYS Constitution 1777

New York Constitution of 1777, ARTS. 32–34

Thorpe 5:2635

Art. XXXII. And this convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State, ordain, determine, and declare, that a court shall be instituted for the trial of impeachments, and the correction of errors, under the regulations which shall be established by the legislature; and to consist of the president of the senate, for the time being, and the senators, chancellor, and judges of the supreme court, or the major part of them; except that when an impeachment shall be prosecuted against the chancellor, or either of the judges of the supreme court, the person so impeached shall be suspended from exercising his office until his acquittal; and, in like manner, when an appeal from a decree in equity shall be heard, the chancellor shall inform the court of the reasons of his decree, but shall not have a voice in the final sentence. And if the cause to be determined shall be brought up by writ of error, on a question of law, on a judgment in the supreme court, the judges of that court shall assign the reasons of such their judgment, but shall not have a voice for its affirmance or reversal.

Art. XXXIII. That the power of impeaching all officers of the State, for mal and corrupt conduct in their respective offices, be vested in the representatives of the people in assembly; but that it shall always be necessary that two third parts of the members present shall consent to and agree in such impeachment. That previous to the trial of every impeachment, the members of the said court shall respectively be sworn truly and impartially to try and determine the charge in question, according to evidence; and that no judgment of the said court shall be valid unless it be assented to by two third parts of the members then present; nor shall it extend farther than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold or enjoy any place of honor, trust, or profit under this State. But the party so convicted shall be, nevertheless, liable and subject to indictment, trial judgment, and punishment, according to the laws of the land.

Art. XXXIV. And it is further ordained, That in every trial on impeachment, or indictment for crimes or misdemeanors, the party impeached or indicted shall be allowed counsel, as in civil actions.