Schuyler Colfax, Jr. (March 23, 1823 – January 13, 1885) was a U.S. Representative from Indiana, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the seventeenth Vice President of the United States.
President Ulysses S. Grant and Vice President Colfax, both 46 at time of entering offices, were the youngest Presidential team until election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992.
Colfax was born in New York City to Schuyler Colfax, Sr. (d. October 30, 1822 of tuberculosis) and Hannah Stryker. 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 (Cousin of General Philip Schuyler.)
In 1836 he moved with his mother and stepfather to New Carlisle, Indiana. As a young man, Colfax contributed articles to the New York Tribune on Indiana politics and formed a lasting friendship with that paper's editor, Horace Greeley. He quickly established a reputation as rising young Whig in Indiana politics 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.
Whig Party delegate
Colfax was a delegate to the Whig Party Convention of 1848 and the Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1849, and a member of the state constitutional convention in 1850. Colfax was nominated for Congress in 1850 and lost a narrow race to his Democratic opponent. As the Whig Party collapsed, Colfax ran again, this time successfully, in 1854 as an Anti-Nebraska 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 attending that (or any) university.
After a brief flirtation with the Know-Nothing Party
, Colfax joined the new Republican Party that was being formed as a fusion of Northern Whigs, Anti-Nebraska Democrats, Know Nothings and Free Soilers. After Republicans gained the majority in the House in 1856, Colfax became Chair of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. Colfax was an energetic campaigner against slavery and his speech attacking the proslavery Lecompton Legislature in Kansas
became the most widely requested Republican campaign document in that election. In 1862, following the electoral defeat of House Speaker Galusha Grow
, Colfax was elected Speaker of the House. During his term as Speaker, he announced the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment
Vice Presidency under Ulysses S. Grant
In 1868 he was elected Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket headed by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He was inaugurated March 4, 1869 and served through March 4, 1873. Colfax was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination for Vice Presidency in 1872 and was replaced on the ticket by Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson
. Compounding Colfax's ill fortune, he became embroiled in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal
and left office under a cloud.
On October 10, 1844, he married a childhood playmate, Evelyn Clark, who died in 1863 and had no children. On November 18, 1868, two weeks after he was elected Vice President, Colfax married Ella M. Wade, a daughter of Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade
; related to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
; see Dudley-Winthrop Family
. They had one son, Schuyler Colfax III, in 1870.
After leaving office, Colfax embarked on a successful career as a lecturer. On January 13, 1885, Colfax walked some ¾ of a mile in -30˚F weather from the Front Street depot to the Omaha rail depot in Mankato, Minnesota
. He was changing trains in Mankato to reach Rock Rapids, Iowa
, en route from South Bend via Chicago for a speaking engagement. Five minutes after arriving at the depot, he dropped dead of a heart attack brought on by extreme cold and exhaustion. He is interred in the City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana
. A historical marker in Mankato in Washington Park, the site of the former depot, marks the place where he died.
The towns of Colfax, California
; Colfax, Washington
; and Colfax, Louisiana
, are named for Schuyler Colfax. The "Jewel of the Midwest," Schuyler, Nebraska
, named after Colfax, is the county seat of Colfax County, Nebraska
. The now ghost town of Colfax, Colorado
, was named after him. Colfax County, New Mexico
, is named after the Speaker as well. In addition, the "main street" traversing Aurora
, 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, Ind. (a few miles east of his New Carlisle home); in the Grant City section of Staten Island, NY; and a Colfax Avenue on Chicago's Southeast Side. There is a Colfax Street leading up Mt. Colfax in Springdale, PA, and a Colfax Avenue in Benton Harbor, Mich., where the school fight song contains the phrase "of that Colfax school" because the high school is located on Colfax.