Schneider obtained his early education at the Latin school of his native town.
Upon reaching his majority Schneider became engaged in journalism. Keenly interested in public affairs, he denounced the arbitrary government of his native state and in 1848 joined an insurrection against it. Having eventually to leave the country because of his political views, he went first to France and thence to the United States.
Arriving in New York in July 1849, he was attracted by the glamorous stories of the new West. Within a few months he had reached St. Louis and founded the Neue Zeit, a paper which soon became conspicuous for its opposition to the extension of slavery.
In 1851 the home of the Neue Zeit was destroyed by fire, and in August of the same year Schneider became an editor of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung.
On January 29, 1854, Schneider convoked a public meeting, perhaps the first of its kind in the United States, to draft resolutions against the Nebraska Bill, and on March 16 at a mass meeting of German citizens in which Schneider was an active participant, Douglas was branded as "an ambitious and dangerous demagogue. "
On February 22, 1856, Schneider was one of a group of anti-Nebraska editors who assembled at Decatur, Illinois, and issued a call for the first Republican state convention in Illinois, to be held at Bloomington in the following May. At the Bloomington convention, with Lincoln's assistance, he managed to get a plank adopted which was a clear-cut pronouncement against Know-Nothing policies hostile to naturalized citizens, especially Germans, who were antislavery men.
He also was chiefly responsible for the adoption of the tenth plank of the Philadelphia platform of 1856 which invited the "affiliation and cooperation of the men of all parties. " He actively espoused Lincoln's candidacy for the presidency after his nomination in 1860, and the nation-wide circulation of the Staats-Zeitung, one of the most influential German papers in the Northwest, did much to consolidate the great foreign-born vote without which Lincoln would have failed of election. In 1861 he was appointed consul at Elsinore, Denmark, primarily to influence the public opinion of northern Europe in favor of the Union cause.
Resigning from this office in 1862, he returned to the United States and in 1863 became collector of internal revenue for the Chicago district, having in the meantime (1862) disposed of his interest in the Staats-Zeitung. After four years in the internal revenue service, he became chief executive of the State Savings Institution at Chicago, and in 1871 he was chosen the first president of the newly organized National Bank of Illinois, a position that he held until 1897. Although he was primarily interested in banking, he continued to be active in public life in Illinois.
Declining to accept a diplomatic appointment to Switzerland in 1877, he became the treasurer of the Chicago South Park Board in the following year, serving in this capacity until 1882. As a director of the Chicago Festival Association, he was instrumental in 1885 in bringing excellent musical talent to Chicago.
He died in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
His first steps were taken in the organization of the Republican Party in Illinois. Schneider bitterly opposed the Douglas program and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. He influenced the approval of Abraham Lincoln, favoring tolerance of religious faith and freedom of conscience, as opposed to the principles of the Know Nothing Party. He was intensely interested in the formation of relief societies for German immigrants.
Schneider was a member and a director of the Illinois Humane Society (many years), which through his efforts in 1879 established a separate department for helpless children.
On June 6, 1853, Schneider married Matilda Schloetzer, by whom he had seven children, all daughters.