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Schuyler Colfax
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
29th 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 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 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 is 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.

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.[1]

Early life and education

Vice President Schuyler Colfax

Colfax was born in New York City to Schuyler Colfax Sr. (born August 3, 1792), a bank teller, and Hannah Delameter Stryker (married April 25, 1820). 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]

Colfax’s father contracted tuberculosis shortly after marriage and died on October 30, 1822, five months before Colfax was born. 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 New York City schools until he was 10 years old, when family financial difficulties led him to take a job in a store. This concluded his formal education: Colfax never attended high school or college.[3]

Newspaper editor

In 1836, Colfax’s mother married George W. Matthews, and Colfax moved with his mother and stepfather to New Carlisle, Indiana. 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]

Political career

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,[5] 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.[6]

Know Nothing

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.[7]

Republican party

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. 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. He 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 election. In 1862, following the electoral defeat of House Speaker Galusha Grow, Colfax was elected Speaker of the House.[5] During his term as Speaker, he 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.[8]

Vice Presidency under Ulysses S. Grant

In 1868, Colfax was elected Vice President of the United States on the ticket headed by Ulysses S. Grant.[5] He 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. Colfax had been involved in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal and left office under a cloud.[5][9]

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.

Personal life

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 in 1870.

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.[10][11]

Last years

After leaving office, Colfax embarked on a successful career as a lecturer. On January 13, 1885, he 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.[12] Five minutes after arriving at the depot, Colfax died of a heart attack brought on by the extreme cold and exhaustion.[13]

He was buried in the City Cemetery at South Bend, Indiana.[14] A historical marker in Mankato in Washington Park, site of the former depot, marks the spot where he died.


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 and in Palatine, 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 is last name. The Schuyler-Colfax House, built by Colfax's antecedents,[15] 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.


  • Hollister, Ovando James (1886). Life of Schuyler Colfax. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. 

See also

  • Dudley-Winthrop Family


  1. 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. 
  2. William Nelson (1876). Biographical Sketch of William Colfax, Captain of Washington's Body Guard. 
  3. Hollister, Ovando James (1886). Life of Schuyler Colfax. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 14–19. OCLC 697981267. 
  4. Trefousse, Hans (1991). Historical dictionary of reconstruction. New York: Greenwood Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 0313258627. OCLC 23253205. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 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. 
  6. William Raimond Baird (1906). Hand-book of Beta Theta Pi. New York. p. 297. 
  7. Brand, Carl Fremont (1916). The History of the Know Nothing Party in Indiana. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. p. 74, note 39. 
  9. Brinkley, Alan (2008). The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People (5th ed.). New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 409. ISBN 978-0-07-330702-2. 
  10. "Our Rebekah History". Official website. Rebekah Assembly of Idaho. Retrieved 11 April 2010. 
  11. "The International Association of Rebekah Assemblies". Rebekahs In the San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area – website. Retrieved 11 April 2010. 
  12. Hollister, 1886.
  13. "Schuyler Colfax Dead", The New York Times, January 14, 1885, p. 1.
  14. Political Graveyard

External links

  • Schuyler Colfax at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
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.

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