Schuyler Colfax was an American politician who served as the 17th Vice President of the United States, from 1869 to 1873, in the administration of Ulysses Grant. Born in New York City, after finishing his education, Colfax worked as a newspaper reporter and publisher as a young man; he established important political contacts in the process. Subsequently, he joined the Whig party where he developed a reputation as a rising young politician and was selected for a number of party posts. But, after the collapse of Whig party, Colfax joined the newly formed Republican Party and ran for Congress, winning a seat which he held from 1855 to 1869. Alongside, he also served as Speaker of the House, from 1863 until the end of his term. An opponent of slavery, Colfax joined the Radical Republicans and strongly supported the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. Afterwards, Ulysses S. Grant selected Colfax as his running mate during Grant’s bid for the presidency and upon winning, Colfax became the Vice President of the United States, serving from 1869 to 1873. Unfortunately, Colfax was later implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal which damaged his reputation and cost him the re-nomination for the office of vice president. After finishing his term, Colfax embarked on a successful career as a lecturer, a capacity in which he served until his death in 1885
Childhood & Early Life
Schuyler Colfax was born on March 23, 1823, in New York City, to Schuyler Colfax Sr., a bank clerk, and his wife, Hannah Delameter Stryker. Unfortunately, his father died five months before the son’s birth, in October 1822, due to tuberculosis. Colfax also had a sister who died in July 1823.
Until the age of 10, he studied in the public schools of New York when family’s financial crisis forced him to take up a job as a clerk in a store. Colfax worked there until 1836, when his mother married again and the family moved to New Carlisle, Indiana.
In 1841, he was appointed the deputy auditor of St. Joseph County, where he served for the several years. Between 1842 and 1844, he worked as assistant enrolling clerk of the state senate and senate reporter for the Indiana State Journal.
Colfax wrote articles on Indiana politics for the New York Tribune and established his reputation as a promising young Whig. Subsequently, he was appointed the editor of the pro-Whig South Bend Free Press.
In 1845, Colfax founded the St. Joseph Valley Register, which later emerged as one of the most influential papers in the state during its 18-year run, initially a powerful Whig and later as a Republican journal.
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In 1848, Schuyler Colfax served as a delegate to the Whig Party convention and the following year, he represented his party at the Indiana Constitutional Convention.
In 1850, he was made a member of the state constitutional convention and two years later, he attempted to receive nomination for the U.S. Congress on the Whig Party ticket but was unsuccessful.
In mid 1850s, during the changing political situation, he shifted from the Whig Party to the Know-Nothing Party and finally to the Republican Party. In 1854, Colfax was again nominated for the U.S. Congress and this time, he won as an Indiana People's Party candidate in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Subsequently, he became a member of U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana’s 9th district. From 1855 to 1869, he served as a U.S. Congressman and was elected as the Speaker in 1863. Thereafter, he also served as speaker of the House of Representatives during the last six years, until 1869.
In 1868, he was nominated by the Republican Party as the running mate of Ulysses S. Grant. Subsequently, Colfax was elected and became the Vice President of the United States, serving from March 1869 to March 1873.
In 1872, Colfax was implicated in a congressional investigation which indicted him of being involved in the Crédit Mobilier Scandal. The investigation indicated that Colfax had been a part of the corrupt transactions with the Credit Mobilier, which involved illegal handling of construction contracts for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Therefore, in the elections of 1872, Colfax was unable to receive re-nomination for the post of vice presidency from the Republican Party. After leaving office in 1873, Colfax began a successful career as a lecturer, traveling all over the country. He earned his livelihood by delivering lectures and lived privately for the rest of his life.
During his service as a Congressman, Colfax strongly opposed slavery while United States went through the tribulations of the American Civil War. After the war, during the Reconstruction Era, he was a leader of the Radical Republicans and advocated the disfranchisement of all the former prominent officials of the Confederate States of America. An anti-slavery promoter, Colfax strongly supported the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1844, Colfax married Evelyn Clark, his childhood friend, but unfortunately she passed away childless in 1863.
In 1868, two weeks after Colfax became the Vice President, he married Ella M. Wade. The couple was blessed with a son, Schuyler Colfax III.
In 1885, on one of his lecture trips in the Midwest, he walked nearly a mile in extremely cold weather, from one depot to another, intending to change trains so as to reach South Bend on a speaking visit.
Upon reaching the station, Colfax died of a heart attack due to cold and exhaustion on January 13, 1885 at the Omaha depot in Mankato, Minnesota. He was 61 years old and was buried in the City Cemetery at South Bend, Indiana.