Schuyler Colfax grew up in a poor family, although he was a descendant of the wealthy Schuyler clan. He grew up in New York City where his father was a bank teller. His father died from tuberculosis several months before he was born. His mother had to raise him by running a boarding house. He was able to get a primary education but only until he was 10 years old. He then had to go to work to help support his family. He never received any other formal education.
His mother‘s name was Hannah Delameter Stryker, a name that hints at strong Dutch roots. His grandmother was Hester Schuyler, a cousin of General Philip Schuyler, the famous Revolutionary general. His grandfather, William Colfax, had served in George Washington’s Life Guard during the American Revolution. He later became a general in the New Jersey Militia.
In 1836 when Schuyler was 13, his mother married George W. Matthews and the family moved to New Carlisle, Indiana. The move apparently did wonders for Colfax. He apparently had been able to self-educate himself, and became a prolific contributor to the local papers. In 1845, at age 22 he purchased a South Bend, Indiana newspaper and renamed it the St. Joseph Valley Register. He used the paper to promote his own political interests. He was a delegate to the Whig Party convention in 1848 and the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1849.
Colfax tried to get nominated as a candidate for the U.S. Congress on the Whig Party ticket in 1852. He was rejected but was nominated again in 1854, won and became a member of the U. S. Congress in 1855, as a Representative from Indiana’s 9th district.
The Whig Party was the forerunner of the Republican Party. He would serve as a Representative in the U.S. House until 1869, when he was elected as Vice President of the United States with Ulysses S. Grant as the President. He served for the full four years of the presidential term until 1873.
While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was elected as the Speaker in 1863 and served for six years as Speaker of the House until 1869, the year he became the Vice President.
During his service as a Congressman the country went through the tribulations of the Civil War. He was strongly opposed to slavery. Also during his time as Speaker of the House the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865.
Colfax married his childhood friend Evelyn Clark in 1844. She passed away childless in 1863. Colfax was then only 40, and in 1868, two weeks after he was elected to the Vice Presidency he married Ella M. Wade. They had one son, Schuyler Colfax III, born in 1870.
After leaving office in 1873, Colfax was only 50 years old. He began a successful career as a lecturer, all over the country. The railroads had arrived and travel had become a lot easier. In 1885, on one of his lecture trips in the Midwest, he had to walk nearly a mile in extremely cold weather. He encountered a heart attack and died on the spot in Omaha, Nebraska.
His body was returned to his home town, South Bend, Indiana. He was buried in the City Cemetery in South Bend. Since he had grown up in the Midwest, had lectured a lot and had served as Vice President for four years, he became well known. In recognition of his services several states named a town after him. So next time you come through a Colfax just remember the story of Schuyler Colfax, who was able to overcome adversity, and succeed in becoming the Vice President of the United States.
See the appendix at the end of the bio profile for Pieter Schuyler [1657-1724] to understand the relationship, if any, between the eight Schuylers in this listing.
Schuyler Colfax, http://bioguide.congress.gov
Schuyler Colfax, Wikipedia and other web sites
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