Saturday, January 13, 2007

January 13, 1885:

Schuyler Colfax Dies

If certain presidents have fallen into obscurity, what chance do vice presidents have to be remembered? Not much, it seems. A lot of people, at least those now over about 40 or so, have heard of Hubert Humphrey, 38th Vice President of United States. But that’s only because, comparatively, he died so recently: January 13, 1978.

Humphrey shares his date of death with Schuyler Colfax, 17th Vice President of the United States, who passed away in 1885 of a heart attack on a bitter cold day in Minnesota. Newspaper editor, one of the founding fathers of the Republican party, Radical Republican leader and Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1869, he became was Grant’s VP during his first term. A success by virtually any standard, except posthumous fame, for he has none. Sic transit gloria mundi, Schuyler.

Colfax’s name is also usually linked with the Credit Mobilier scandal, something else that has left no enduring memory except among historians and enthusiasts. Though convicted of nothing, Colfax nevertheless left office in 1873 “under a cloud” as some of his short bios put it. That might have been the end of his political career, but he found another line of work that many former politicos practice to this day: public speaking. Reportedly, he got as much as $2,500 per speech, an enormous sum at the time, comparable to the take of top-dollar public speakers in our own time. He was on his way to an engagement at the time of his death.

Much more on Vice President Colfax is at the US Senate web site.

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