Schuyler Colfax

Schuyler Colfax (1823-1885)

Colfax was born on March 23 in New York City, 5 months after his father’s passing from TB. Attending the common schools and clerking in a retail store, young Colfax was bright and intelligent. His mother remarried George Matthews who 2 years later (1836) moved the family to Indiana. At the age of 19, Colfax was hired to be the editor of the South Bend Free Press newspaper. A few years later the young editor (who was anti-slavery) would buy the paper, which became one of the more influential papers in the state during his 18 years as editor.

Colfax became involved in politics and by 1854 was elected to the United States Congress. During the Lincoln Douglas debates, Colfax and Chase from Ohio came to Illinois and stumped for Lincoln. Two years later Colfax was in Chicago at the republican convention when Lincoln was nominated for president. Colfax favored Bates for president, and though Colfax congratulated Lincoln, there must have been some hard feelings. Overlooking Colfax, Lincoln put Caleb Smith from Indiana in his cabinet.

Colfax becomes Speaker of the House – and as such would have considerable contact with President Lincoln during the course of his administration. Colfax was not an ardent supporter of Lincoln’s second election run. Colfax would mention positive comments about his meetings with the president. Colfax once attended a play with the Lincolns, and the driver of the carriage was drunk, and Mr. Grove of the theater drove Colfax home first, then the Lincolns.

Lincoln invites Colfax to the second inaugural ball. On the day Lincoln was shot, Colfax confers with the president, who in turn asks Colfax to attend the theater with him that evening. Colfax denies the invitation because he was to start for the west coast the next morning. Colfax was designated as a Lincoln Funeral pall bearer at the Capital ceremony. Colfax, whose home was in South Bend, Indiana, boarded the funeral train at Michigan City with the Chicago escort committee. At Michigan City there was a fine display of honor given to President Lincoln capped by 15 young ladies who entered the funeral car and laid flowers on the casket – one on the ladies being a niece of Colfax. The next day Colfax wound give the funeral oration on April 30th in Bryant Hall, Chicago, previous to the Lincoln funeral.

In 1868 Colfax was elected Vice President to the first administration of President Grant. He was replaced on the ticket four years later, probably because of his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal. It was revealed that $4000 had been accepted by Colfax as a campaign contribution. Colfax, under a cloud, returned to private life and made a living by delivering lectures on Lincoln. On January 13, 1885, Colfax walked some ¾ of a mile in -30 degree weather to the Omaha rail station in Mankato, Minnesota. Five minutes after arriving, Colfax dropped dead of a heart attack brought on by the extreme cold and exhaustion. Colfax is buried in the City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana.

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