Schuyler Colfax was born on 23 March 1823 in New York City, five months after his father’s premature death from tuberculosis. Schuyler attended the common schools and clerked in a retail store until his mother, Hannah (Stryker) Colfax, remarried in 1834. Two years later, Schuyler’s stepfather, George Matthews, moved the family to Indiana.
At the age of nineteen, Schuyler was hired by local Indiana Whigs to serve as editor of The South Bend Free Press. Schuyler bought the paper in 1845, renamed it The Saint Joseph Valley Register, and diligently worked to further Whig political interests by it.
Schuyler’s political career began in earnest after his marriage to Evelyn Clark in 1844. As Schuyler was anti-slavery, he eventually left the Whig party and helped build the newly formed Republican Party. By 1854 Schuyler was elected to Congress, and in 1863 he became Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In 1868 Ulysses S. Grant was elected President of the United States, with Schuyler serving as his Vice President. While Vice-President Elect, Schuyler, who had been widowed for five years, married Ellen Wade. His first child, Schuyler Colfax III, was born two years later.
Schuyler announced his retirement in 1870 in a ploy to garner support as a presidential candidate in the forthcoming election. When the tactic failed, Senator Henry Wilson succeeded him as Vice President in Grant’s second administration. At the same time the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke. While officially exonerated, Schuyler was caught lying about his involvement with the finance company and left the Vice Presidency in disgrace.
Once his political career ended, Schuyler entered the lecture circuit as a popular speaker about his wartime relationship with President Abraham Lincoln. En route to one such speaking engagement, Schuyler suffered a heart attack while changing trains in Minnesota. He collapsed and died on the platform on 13 January 1885 at the age of sixty-one.
Hatfield, Mark O, ed. Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.
Hollister, O.J. Life of Schuyler Colfax. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886.
Smith, Willard H. Schuyler Colfax: The Changing Fortunes of a Political Idol. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1952.