Schuyler Colfax

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Schuyler Colfax
Schuyler Colfax portrait.jpg
17th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1873
President Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded by Andrew Johnson
Succeeded by Henry Wilson
25th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
In office
December 7, 1863 – March 3, 1869
President Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Preceded by Galusha A. Grow
Succeeded by Theodore M. Pomeroy
Member of U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1855 – March 4, 1869
Preceded by Norman Eddy
Succeeded by John P. C. Shanks
Personal details
Born Schuyler Colfax Jr.
March 23, 1823 (1823-03-23)
New York City, New York
Died January 13, 1885 (1885-01-14) (aged 61)
Mankato, Minnesota
Political party Whig; Republican
Spouse(s) Evelyn Clark Colfax
Ellen Maria Wade Colfax
Children Schuyler Colfax III

Schuyler Colfax Jr. (/ˈsklər ˈklfæks/; March 23, 1823 – January 13, 1885) was a journalist, author, editor, newspaper owner, continental traveler, iron company executive, United States Representative from Indiana (1855–1869), Speaker of the House of Representatives (1863–1869), and the 17th Vice President of the United States (1869–1873). To date, he was one of only two Americans (John Nance Garner in the 20th century being the other) to have served as both House speaker and vice president. Schuyler was known for his opposition to slavery while serving as U.S. Congressmen and for being a founder of the Republican Party. Colfax, as Speaker for the House, voted for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865. President Ulysses S. Grant and Colfax, 46 and 45, were the youngest Presidential team elected in the 19th Century. Although Colfax denied involvement, an 1873 Congressional investigation into the Crédit Mobilier scandal discovered he received a $1,200 payment check. The investigation also discovered Colfax received a $4,000 payment from a contractor in 1868 while Schuyler was chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. His political career ruined and his reputation marred, Colfax left the Vice Presidency office in 1873 and never again ran for public office. Colfax afterwards made a living as public lecturer and steel company executive until his death in 1885.

Early life and education

File:William Colfax.jpg
Schuyler Colfax's grandfather William

Schuyler Colfax was born on March 23, 1823 in New York City to Schuyler Colfax Sr. (born August 3, 1792), a bank teller, and Hannah Delameter Stryker (married April 25, 1820).[1] His grandfather, William Colfax, had served in George Washington's Life Guard during the American Revolution, became a general in the New Jersey militia and married Hester Schuyler, a cousin of general Philip Schuyler.[2][1] William was commander at Sandy Hook during the War of 1812 .

Ancestral home of Schuyler Colfax's grandparents William and Hester. Originally built in 1695.

Colfax's father who worked at the Mechanics bank contracted tuberculosis shortly after marriage and died on October 30, 1822, five months before Colfax was born.[1] His mother Hannah remarried George W. Mathews.[1] His sister Mary died in July 1823, 4 months after he was born. His mother and grandmother ran a boarding house as their primary means of economic support. Colfax attended the best private schools in New York City until he was 10 years old, when family financial difficulties led him to take a job as a clerk in a store owned by his step father Mathews.[1] This concluded his formal education, as Colfax never attended high school or college.[3]

In 1836 Colfax and his family moved to New Carlisle, Indiana. In 1841 Colfax was appointed by his step-father Mathews deputy auditor of St. Joseph County.[1] Colfax became interested in journalism and covered the state senate for the Indiana State Journal, Indianappolis[1]

Newspaper editor

As a young man, Colfax contributed articles on Indiana politics to the New York Tribune and formed a friendship with the editor, Horace Greeley. He established a reputation as rising young Whig and at 19 became the editor of the pro-Whig South Bend Free Press. In 1845, Colfax purchased the newspaper and changed its name to the St. Joseph Valley Register. He remained in charge of the paper for nine years, and wrote editorials in support of first Whig and later Republican views.[4]

Marriages and family

Ellen M. Wade
Wife of Schuyler Colfax

On October 10, 1844, Colfax married childhood friend Evelyn Clark. She died childless in 1863. On November 18, 1868, two weeks after he was elected vice president, Colfax married Ella M. Wade, a niece of Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade. They had one son, Schuyler Colfax III (born 1870), who served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana from 1898 to 1901.[5]

Whig Party delegate

Colfax was a delegate to the Whig Party Convention of 1848 and the Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1849. He was a member of the state constitutional convention in 1850. Colfax was nominated for Congress in 1852, but narrowly lost to his Democratic opponent. He ran again two years later, this time successfully,[6] in 1854 as an Indiana People's Party candidate in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The same year, Colfax was initiated as a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at DePauw University, without ever having attended that (or any) university.[7]

Know Nothing party affiliation

In 1855, Colfax considered the Know Nothing Party, and was selected (without his prior knowledge) as a delegate to the June party convention, but had mixed feelings about the group and subsequently denied having been a member. Although he agreed with many Know Nothing doctrines, he disapproved of the organization's secrecy and citizenship test. In the end, he broke with the party because of his strong anti-slavery stance and his acceptance of foreign-born men as citizens.[8]

U.S. Congressman (1855-1869)

When the Whig Party collapsed completely, Colfax joined the new Republican Party that was formed as a fusion of northern Whigs, Anti-Nebraska Act Democrats, Know Nothings, and Free Soilers. In December 1855 Colfax entered the U.S. House of Representatives. After the Republicans gained the majority in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of 1858, Colfax became chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.

Opposed slavery

Colfax, having joined forces with the Radical Republicans, was an energetic opponent of slavery and his speech attacking the pro-slavery Lecompton Legislature in Kansas became the most widely requested Republican campaign document in the 1858 mid-term elections.

Civil War

Visited General Frémont in St. Louis

On September 14, 1861 Colfax visted his close friend General John C. Frémont in St. Louis Missouri. [9] Colfax petitioned Frémont to send troops to intercept and capture Confederate General Price's army in Kentucky believing the Frémont was in command of 20,000 Union troops in St. Louis.[9] Frémont however informed Colfax that he only had 8,000 troops in St. Louis and was unable to spare any.[9] Frémont told Colfax that Washington had requested 5,000 of his troops. Colfax responded to tell Washington that he could not spare the men or Missouri would be lost. Frémont, having a reputation of insubordination, declined Colfax's request wanting to appear subordinate to Washington and the Lincoln administration.[9]

Elected Speaker of the House

In 1862, following the electoral defeat of House Speaker Galusha Grow, Colfax was elected Speaker of the House.[6]

Announced passage of Thirteeth Amendment

On January 31, 1865 Colfax announced the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Though it is unusual for a Speaker to vote, Colfax, perhaps with an eye towards posterity, directed the clerk to call his name after the roll call had been taken. He then cast the final vote in favour of the amendment, to much applause from the supporters in the House.[10] The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States and territories.


Western travels

In 1865, Colfax, along with author Samuel Bowles and Lieutenant-Governor of Illinois William Bross, set out across the western territories from Mississippi to the California coast to record their experiences in the new land. They compiled their observations in a book called, OUR NEW WEST, published in 1869 (Hartford Publishing Company in Hartford, CT), thus making Colfax a published author the same year he was inaugurated. Included in their eye-witness accounts were views of Los Angeles, with its wide panorama of vast citrus groves and orchards, and conversations with Brigham Young.

Election of 1868

Grant Colfax 1868 Campaign Poster

During the 1868 Republican Convention the Republicans nominated Colfax Vice Presidential candidate. [11] Colfax was popular among Republicans known for his friendly character, party loyalty, and his views on Southern Reconstruction.[11] Among Republicans he was known as "Smiler Colfax".[11] The Republican delegates elected Colfax vice presidential candidate after five ballots defeating other contenders.[11] The Republican delegates elected Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant presidential candidate to head the ticket.[6] Grant won the 1868 presidential election and Colfax was elected the 17th Vice-President of the United States. [11][6]

Vice President (1869-1873)

Vice President Schuyler Colfax

Colfax was inaugurated March 4, 1869, and served until March 4, 1873. Colfax was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination for the vice presidency in 1872 and was replaced by Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson. President Ulysses S. Grant and Colfax, 46 and 45 respectively at the time of their inauguration, were the youngest Presidential team until the inauguration of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1993.[12]

Election of 1872

Prior to the 1872 Presidential Election, Colfax believed that Grant would only serve one term as President.[11] In 1870 Colfax announced he would not run for political office in 1872.[11] Colfax's announcement failed to garnish prominent support among Republicans for a presidential bid, as he had planned, while Grant decided to run for a second term.[11] The Liberal Republicans interest in Colfax alienated him more from the Republican Party and Grant.[11] Not withstanding, Colfax after retracting his 1870 pledge not to run, said he would run for office if elected the vice presidential nomination and he was able to gain enough Republican support to nominate him a Vice President candidate at the 1872 Republican Convention.[11] The Liberal Republicans believed that the Grant administration was corrupt and were against Grant's attempted annexation of Santo Domingo. Senator Henry Wilson, however, a founder of the Free Soil and Republican Party defeated Colfax for the vice presidential nomination.[11] Colfax received 321.5 delegate votes to Wilson's 399.5 delegate votes. Grant went on to win the election for a second term, while Wilson became the 18th Vice-President of the United States.[11]

Crédit Mobilier scandal (1872-1873)

In September 1872, during the presidential election, Colfax's reputation was marred by a New York Sun article which indicated that he was involved in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. Colfax was one of several Representatives and Senators (mostly Republicans), including nominated Vice Presidential candidate Henry Wilson, who were offered (and possibly took) bribes of cash and discounted shares in the Union Pacific Railroad's Crédit Mobilier subsidiary from Congressman Oakes Ames in exchange for votes favorable to the Union Pacific during the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Colfax initially denied involvement to the press. A Congressional investigation in January 1873 revealed that Colfax in 1868 had taken a $1,200 gift check for 20 shares of Crédit Mobilier stock from Ames. At the end of the investigation in February 1873, Colfax was not censured or forced to resign, mainly because the incident took place during his tenure as Congressman.[13] In addition to Colfax's involvement in the Crédit Mobilier scandal the investigation revealed that Colfax had received a $4,000 gift in 1868 from a contractor who supplied envelopes to the federal government while Colfax was chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.[13] His career ruined, Colfax left office under a cloud at the end of his term in March, while he never ran for public office again.[6][14][13] Throughout the investigation and after leaving office Colfax continued to deny taking Ames' $1,200 check while getting support from his personal associates.[1]

Lecturer and iron company Vice President

Colfax, only four days out of office, was castigated in a political cartoon for his involvement in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. Uncle Sam shown encouraging Colfax to commit Hari-Kari. Keppler March 8, 1873

Even after leaving office in 1873, Colfax's reputation remained damaged as he continued to defend himself against charges of corruption in the Crédit Mobilier scandal and from the Congressional investigation that followed. On March 8, 1873 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper published a political cartoon by Joseph Keppler that depicted Uncle Sam advocating Colfax commit Hari-Kari.[15]

Colfax embarked on a successful career as a lecturer. Colfax in 1875 was the Vice President of Indiana Reaper and Iron Company.[16] On February 12, 1875 having returned to Washington D.C. to give a lecture he advised his friends who were frustrated over Washington politics "Ah! the way to get out of politics is to get out of politics."[16]

Death and burial

On January 13, 1885, Colfax walked about three-quarters of a mile (1 kilometer) in −30 °F (−34 °C) weather from the Front Street depot to the Omaha depot in Mankato, Minnesota, intending to change trains to reach South Bend via Chicago for a speaking engagement.[17] Five minutes after arriving at the depot, Colfax died of a heart attack brought on by the extreme cold and exhaustion.[18]

He was buried in the City Cemetery at South Bend, Indiana.[19] A historical marker in Mankato in Washington Park, site of the former depot, marks the spot where he died. In the same year former President Ulysses S. Grant died.

Historical reputation

Towns in the U.S. states of California, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Louisiana are named after him. Schuyler, Nebraska, named after Colfax, is the county seat of Colfax County, Nebraska. The ghost town of Colfax, Colorado, was named after him, as was Colfax County, New Mexico. Colfax, California boasts a bronze statue of Colfax, at the Amtrak station.

The main east-west street traversing Aurora, Denver and Lakewood, Colorado, and abutting the Colorado State Capitol is named Colfax Avenue in the politician's honor. There is another Colfax Avenue in South Bend, Indiana (a few miles east of his New Carlisle home and adjacent to his burial site); Colfax Place in the Highland Square neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, in Grant City in New York's Staten Island; in Minneapolis, Minnesota; in Roselle Park, New Jersey; and a Colfax Street on Chicago's South Side. There is a Colfax Street leading up Mt. Colfax in Springdale, Pennsylvania, in Palatine, Illinois, in Evanston, Illinois, and Jamestown, New York. Dallas, Texas and one of its suburbs, Richardson, each have separate residential roads named Colfax Drive. There is also a Colfax Avenue in Concord, California as well as in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where the school fight song contains the phrase "of that Colfax school" because the high school is located on the street.

There is a Colfax Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Elementary School and High School in Colfax, California also bear his last name. The Schuyler-Colfax House, built by Colfax's antecedents,[20] can be found in Wayne, NJ. Also in Wayne is a middle school bearing the same name. Members of his family reside in northern New Jersey, but no longer own the Colfax museum. They are currently trying to purchase the museum and all of its contents.

Colfax is portrayed in the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln by actor Bill Raymond during his time as Speaker in 1865.

Odd Fellows: founder of Rebekah Degree

As a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Colfax, along with Martin of Mississippi and Steel of Tennessee, were appointed to prepare a Ritual of ceremonies pertaining to the Rebekah Degree and report at the 1851 session. On September 20, 1851, the IOOF approved the degree and Colfax was considered the author and founder.[21][22]


  • Hollister, Ovando James (1886). Life of Schuyler Colfax. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 BDOA_CS_1906.
  2. William Nelson (1876). Biographical Sketch of William Colfax, Captain of Washington's Body Guard.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hollister, Ovando James (1886). Life of Schuyler Colfax. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 14–19. OCLC 697981267.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Trefousse, Hans (1991). Historical dictionary of reconstruction. New York: Greenwood Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 0313258627. OCLC 23253205.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Bain, David Haward (2004). The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West. New York City, New York: Penguin Books. pp. 65–6. ISBN 0-14-303526-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. William Raimond Baird (1906). Hand-book of Beta Theta Pi. New York. p. 297.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Brand, Carl Fremont (1916). The History of the Know Nothing Party in Indiana. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. p. 74, note 39.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Abbot 1864, p. 282,283.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 Joseph E. Delgatto, Indiana Journal Hall of Fame, Schuyler Colfax 1966
  12. Ifill, Gwen (July 10, 1992). "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Democrats; CLINTON SELECTS SENATOR GORE OF TENNESSEE AS RUNNING MATE". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 MacDonald 1930, p. 298.
  14. Brinkley, Alan (2008). The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People (5th ed.). New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-07-330702-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Joseph Keppler (March 8, 1873), Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, page 420
  16. 16.0 16.1 New York Times (February 14, 1875), A Visit From Schuyler Colfax
  17. Hollister, 1886.
  18. "Schuyler Colfax Dead", The New York Times, January 14, 1885, p. 1.
  19. Political Graveyard
  21. "Our Rebekah History". Official website. Rebekah Assembly of Idaho. Retrieved 11 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "The International Association of Rebekah Assemblies". Rebekahs In the San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area – website. Retrieved 11 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Abbot, John S.C. (1864). The History of the Civil War in America. New York: Henry Bill.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • MacDonald, William (1930). Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone (ed.). Dictionary of American Biography Colfax, Schuyler. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rossiter Johnson, ed. (1906). Biographical Dictionary of America Colfax, Schuyler.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Johnson(1)
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1873
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Preceded by
Galusha A. Grow
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
December 7, 1863 – March 4, 1869
Succeeded by
Theodore Medad Pomeroy
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Norman Eddy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 9th congressional district

March 4, 1855 – March 4, 1869
Succeeded by
John P. C. Shanks
Party political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Johnson(1)
Republican vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Notes and references
1. Lincoln and Johnson ran on the National Union ticket in 1864.
  1. REDIRECT Template:US House speakers