|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Nicknamed "Smiler" because of his perennial good nature, Colfax served in the United States House of Representatives as Speaker. He became the first Speaker to gain election to the Vice Presidency of the United States. Political scandal almost cost him the Vice-Presidency and did end his political career before he reached the apex of politics, the Presidency.
Born in New York
Bank Teller Schyler Colfax, Sr. and Hannah Stryker conceived their child Schyler in New York City. Schyler Sr. died of tuberculosis five months before Schyler Jr. was born. By age ten the boy worked as a retail clerk to help with the family finances while attending school. His mother married George W. Matthews. Matthews moved his new family to Indiana, settling in New Carlisle. Schyler worked in his stepfathers store as a boy, reading newspapers on a barrel during slow times. He continued his education by borrowing books from whoever would loan them to him.
Start in Politics
In 1841, his family moved to South Bend and his father gained election as county auditor. Schyler gained his first political experience when his stepfather hired him as his deputy. When he was sixteen, Schyler wrote a letter to Horace Greeley and offered to write political articles for the New-York Tribune. Greeley accepted the offer and Schyler began both his newspaper career and his life-long friendship with Greeley. He moved into politics in 1848 by serving as the Whig delegate to the Indiana convention. He then gained election to the convention that wrote the new Indiana Constitution of 1851. The Whigs chose him to run for Congress in 1851, an election that he narrowly lost. The Whig party disintegrated during this time and for a few years, the political scene was a disorganized mess. Schyler ran for Congress again in 1854 on the Indiana People's Party's slate. He won but when he arrived in Congress, there was much confusion as to who belonged to what party. Eventually the Republican Party emerged, forming an anti-slavery coalition of Whigs, Democrats and Know-Nothings. Schyler joined this new Republican Party.
Speaker of the House
Schyler served in the House in various capacities until 1862, when he became Speaker. This post he served well in during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and the following Reconstruction period. His political stature grew and in 1868, the Republican delegates chose him to run with Ulysses S. Grant as Vice President. The ticket won that election, but this would prove to be the apex of a career that Colfax had hoped would lead to the Presidency.
The Credit Mobilier Scandal
The Credit Mobilier Company underwrote the costs associated with building the Union Pacific Railroad. Dependent upon federal subsidies, the company distributed stock to influential Congressmen. Colfax proved to be one of those Congressmen. The scandal broke while Colfax served as Vice President. The resulting scandal almost resulted in his impeachment. At the end of his term, he retired back to Indiana to become a successful lecturer.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning