Schuyler Colfax

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Schuyler Colfax, Jr.
Schuyler Colfax, photo portrait seated.jpg
17th Vice President of the United States
From: March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1873
President Ulysses S. Grant
Predecessor Andrew Johnson
Successor Henry Wilson
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
From: December 7, 1863 – March 3, 1869
Predecessor Galusha A. Grow
Successor Theodore M. Pomeroy
Former U.S. Representative from Indiana's 9th Congressional District
From: March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1869
Predecessor Norman Eddy
Successor John P. C. Shanka
Party Whig Party (before 1854)
Indiana People's Party (1854)
Republican (since 1855)
Spouse(s) Evelyn Clark Colfax (died 1863); Ellen Maria Wade Colfax
Religion Christian[1]

Schuyler Colfax, Jr. (March 23, 1823 – January 13, 1885) (pron. SHY-LER) was Ulysses S. Grant's vice president from Jan. 24, 1884 to Sept. 2, 1886. Devoutly religious and a believer of the Bible, he was known as the "Christian Statesman" and was noted for firm integrity.[1]

Initially aligned with the pro-business Whig Party, Colfax helped organize a coalition of anti-slavery Northern Whigs, Know Nothings, and Democrats in establishing the Republican Party that emphasized abolitionism.[1] He later became known as an ardent Radical Republican during Reconstruction.


Colfax was born in New York City in late March 1823 to Schuyler Colfax, Sr. and the former Hannah Stryker. His father died of tuberculosis several months prior to his birth, and Colfax's mother married George W. Matthews three years later.[1] Colfax attended local common schools until reaching the age of ten, when he began working in his family's retail store.

In 1841, the family moved to South Bend, Indiana.[1] Colfax married childhood sweetheart Evelyn E. Clark three years later.

Political career

His stepfather Matthews was elected in 1841 to become a county auditor as a Whig candidate, and Colfax was hired as a deputy.[1] The latter was reportedly active in "moot legislature" and gained experience in parliamentary procedures that would mark the beginnings of his long career.

Colfax's political roots began as a Whig, and as a delegate to the 1848 party convention that year was a leader opposing a state constitution provision that would prevent blacks from entering Indiana or owning land if already residents.[1]

U.S. House of Representatives

In 1851, Indiana Whigs selected Colfax to run for Congress as the party nominee from Indiana's 9th congressional district.[1] Challenging incumbent Democrat Graham N. Fitch, he narrowly lost one percentage point.[2] Colfax tried again three years later as an anti-Nebraska candidate outraged over the increasing Whig collapse and Stephen A. Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Act,[1] and was successful the second time around.[3] Fellow friend and abolitionist Horace Greeley advised him:

I thought it would be a nuisance and a sacrifice for me to go to Congress, but I was mistaken; it did me lasting good. I never was brought so palpably and tryingly into collision with the embodied scroundrelism of the nation as while in Congress.

—Horace Greeley, editor and future Liberal Republican Party leader

Establishing a competitive state GOP

Schuyler colfax.jpg

The Whig Party over time collapsed over internal disputes, unable to reconcile between the Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery forces. Along with a small number of Jacksonian Democrats who opposed slavery in addition to the populist, anti-immigration "Know Nothing" movement, they were sought out by Colfax to form the new Republican Party.[1] Colfax himself shared some viewpoints of the Know Nothings in resenting Catholic immigrants, who at the time often attacked other minorities ruthlessly.

According to the New-York Tribune Almanac in 1855, over 100 congressmen were part of the anti-Nebraska movement that included Republicans, anti-slavery Democrats, Whigs, and Know Nothings.[1] The decline of the Know Nothing movement solidified the strength of the Republican Party, which Colfax joined and ran for re-election under the party banner of in 1856.[4]

Congressional tenure, becoming House Speaker

Considered stocky and fair-haired, Colfax was known for maintaining civility in Congress without hesitating to stand up for moral principles.[1] When the GOP gained control of the House, he utilized patronage via the spoils system to further his causes, similar to most Republicans. Colfax scornfully decried slavery, giving a speech in 1856 condemning pro-slavery laws in Kansas.[1] James D. McCabe noted:

Mr. Colfax took an active part in the debate, giving and receiving hard blows with all the skill of an old gladiator.

—James Dabney McCabe

As Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860 and the South retaliated with secession, Colfax acted as a mediator between the moderate and radical wings of the Republican Party though endlessly fought for the Union cause.[1] After barely winning re-election in the 1862 midterms,[5] he was elected House Speaker by his congressional party colleagues.

Colfax's early studying of parliamentary procedures proved to be of use.[1] Seeking to become as powerful as Henry Clay, who he was as popular as, Colfax expelled a House Democrat who defended the Confederacy. Breaking traditional precedent by remaining true to his principles as opposed to acting as an impartial presiding officer, Speaker Colfax also made clear his support for the 13th Amendment.[1]

Although Colfax was viewed as powerful, the de facto Republican leader was considered to have been Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.[1]

Following the assassination of President Lincoln, Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson assumed the position. Although Colfax and Radical Republicans initially were optimistic that Johnson would spearhead a just Reconstruction policy, they quickly broke with him.[1] Johnson held a disdain for Colfax and attempted vainly to thwart the Radical Republicans, ultimately facing impeachment after violating the Tenure of Office Act. Although Johnson narrowly survived Senate conviction, his House impeachment was credited to Republican unity Colfax ensured.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 About the Vice President | Schuyler Colfax, 17th Vice President (1869-1873). United States Senate. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  2. IN - District 09 Race - Aug 04, 1851. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  3. IN - District 09 Rae - Oct 10, 1854. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  4. IN - District 09 Race - Oct 14, 1856. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  5. IN - District 09 Race - Oct 14, 1862. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 13, 2021.