Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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COLFAX, Schuyler, statesman, born in New York City, 23 March, 1823; died in Mankato, Minn., 13 January, 1885. His grandfather was General William Colfax, who commanded the life-guards of Washington throughout the Revolutionary war. His father died a short time before the son's birth, and in 1834 his mother married George W. Matthews. After attending the public schools till he was ten years of age, and serving three years as clerk in his step-father's store, Schuyler went with the family to Indiana in 1836, and settled in New Carlisle, St. Joseph County, where Mr. Matthews soon became postmaster. The boy continued to serve as his clerk, and began a journal to aid himself in composition, contributing at the same time to the county paper. His step-father retired from business in 1839, and Colfax then began to study law, but afterward gave it up. In 1841 Mr. Matthews was elected county auditor, and removed to South Bend, making his step-son his deputy, which office Colfax held for eight years, in 1842 he was active in organizing a temperance society in South Bend, and continued a total abstainer throughout his life. At this time he reported the proceedings of the state senate for the Indianapolis "Journal" for two years. In 1844 he made campaign speeches for Henry Clay. He had acted as editor of the South Bend "Free Press" for about a year when, in company with A. W. West, he bought the paper in September, 1845, and changed its name to the " St. Joseph Valley Register." Under his management, despite numerous mishaps and business losses, the "Register" quadrupled its subscription in a few years, and became the most influential journal, in support of Whig politics, in that part of Indiana. Mr. Colfax was secretary of the Chicago harbor and River convention of July, 1847, and also of the Baltimore Whig convention of 1848, which nominated Taylor for president. The next year he was elected a member of the convention to revise the constitution of the state of Indiana, and in his place, both by voice and vote, opposed the clause that prohibited free colored men from settling in that state. He was also offered a nomination for the state senate, but declined it. In 1851 he was a candidate for congress, and came near being elected in a district that was strongly democratic. He accepted his opponent's challenge to a joint canvass, travelled a thousand miles, and spoke seventy times. He was again a delegate to the Whig national convention in 1852, and, having joined the newly formed Republican Party, was its successful candidate for congress in 1854, serving .by successive re-elections till 1869. In 1856 he supported Fremont for president, and during the canvass made a speech in congress on the extension of slavery and the aggressions of the slave-power. This speech was used as a campaign document, and more than half a million copies were circulated. He was chairman of several important committees of congress, especially that on post-offices and post-roads, and introduced many reforms, including a bill providing for a daily overland mail-route from St. Louis to San Francisco, reaching mining-camps where letters had previously been delivered by express at five dollars an ounce. Mr. Colfax favored Edward Bates as the republican candidate for the presidency in 1860. His name was widely mentioned for the office of postmaster-general in Lincoln's cabinet, but the president selected C. born Smith, of Indiana, on the ground, as he afterward wrote Colfax, that the latter was "a young man, running a brilliant career, and sure of a bright future in any event." in the latter part of 1861 he ably defended Fremont in the house against the attack of Frank P. Blair. In 1862 he intro-dared a bill, which became a law, to punish fraudulent contractors as felons, and continued his efforts for reform in the postal service. He was elected speaker of the house on 7 December, 1863, and on 8 April, 1864, descended from the chair to move the expulsion of Mr. Long, of Ohio, who had made a speech favoring the recognition of the southern confederacy. The resolution was afterward changed to one of censure, and Mr. Colfax's action was widely commented on, but generally sustained by Union men. On 7 May, 1864, he was presented by citizens of Indiana then in Washington with a service of silver, largely on account of his course in this matter. He was twice re-elected as speaker, each time by an increased majority, and gained the applause of both friends and opponents by his skill as a presiding officer, often shown under very trying circumstances. In May, 1868, the republican national convention at Chicago nominated him on the first ballot for vice-president, General Grant being the nominee for president, and, the republican ticket having been successful, he took his seat as president of the senate on 4 March, 1869. On 4 August, 1871, President Grant offered him the place of secretary of state for the remainder of his term, but he declined. In 1872 he was prominently mentioned as a presidential candidate, especially by those who, later in the year, were leaders in the liberal republican movement, and, although he refused to join them, this was sufficient to make administration men oppose his renomination for the vice-presidency, and he was defeated in the Philadelphia convention of 1872. In December, 1872, he was offered the chief editorship of the New York "Tribune," but declined it. In 1873 Mr. Colfax was implicated in the charges of corruption brought against members of congress who had received shares of stock in the credit mobilier of America. The house judiciary committee reported that there was no ground for his impeachment, as the alleged offence, if committed at all, had been committed before he became vice-president. These charges cast a shadow over the latter part of Mr. Colfax's life. He denied their truth, and his friends have always regarded his character as irreproachable. His later years were spent mostly in retirement in his home at South Bend, Indiana, and in delivering public lectures, which he did frequently before large audiences. His first success in this field had been in 1865 with a lecture entitled "Across the Continent," written after his return from an excursion to California. The most popular of his later lectures was that on "Lincoln and Garfield." Mr. Colfax was twice married. After his death, which was the result of heart disease, public honors were paid to his memory both in congress and in Indiana. See "Life of Colfax" by O. J. Hollister (New York, 1886).
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