Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Schuyler Colfax!

"A friendly rascal...a little intriguer -- plausible, aspiring beyond his capacity, and not trustworthy."

Abraham Lincoln giving his opinion of then Speaker of the House and future VP Schuyler Colfax.

Hey Vice-Precedence Blog Readers!

Yesterday was the birthday of a VP who left office under a cloud of scandal and disgrace.

On March 23, 1823 Schuyler Colfax was born in New York, NY.

Colfax came from a family with a strong tradition of service to the country, even before it was a country. His grandfather was the commander of George Washingtons Life Guards--Washingtons personal bodyguards charged with protecting him and important papers of the Continental Army.

Colfax made a steady rise from 19 year old newspaper editor, to member of the Whig Party, to member of Congress, switched to the new Republican Party, to election as Speaker of the House where he announced the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment-officially abolishing slavery, to Vice-President under Ulysses S. Grant. He was very popular among his fellow politicians and was always ready with a laugh and a joke-leading to his nickname: "Smiler".

Besides jokes, Colfax had a penchant for intrigue, scandal, and greed. He was tapped to be VP under Grant because he was popular with his fellow Republicans and experienced in politics-unlike the former failed shopkeeper turned national hero Grant.

He was forced out of the Vice-Presidency when he exposed as having taken part in the Credit Mobilier Scandal and was nearly impeached. He was replaced by Henry Wilson in the second Grant Administration, who was completely free of any scandal.

Colfax made his living after the Vice-Presidency as a lecturer, speaking across the country. On January 13, 1885, at the age of 63 he walked almost a mile in negative 30˚F weather from the Front Street depot to the Omaha depot in Mankato, Minnesota. He had to change trains in Mankato to reach Rock Rapids, Iowa, for a speaking engagement. Five minutes after arriving at the depot, Colfax dropped dead of a heart attack brought on by the extreme cold and exhaustion.

The city of Mankato (a couple hours from where I live in Minneapolis now) set up a marker where the former VP died in its Washington Park on the site of the former depot. Its probably the most historic thing to ever happen in the small town. There are also 7 cities in 7 different states across the country named for the former VP. Why? I mean, he was forced to resign in disgrace but 7 towns named their cities after him? We're all in favor of recognizing our VP's here at Vice-Precedence, but even we'll admit that Schuyler Colfax is a weird one to choose.

Most strangely of all, Colfax died trying to catch a train, so naturally the town of Colfax, CA. had a bronze statue of Colfax placed next to their AMTRAK station. You can see it here on the blog.

I'm sure he would be pleased.


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