Altgeld, John Peter


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Altgeld, John Peter

(ält`gĕlt), 1847–1902, American politician, governor of Illinois (1892–96), b. Germany. He was taken by his immigrant parents to Ohio, where he grew up with little formal schooling. After service in the Union army he spent some years as an itinerant worker on farms, read law, and became county attorney of Savannah, Mo. In 1875 he moved to Chicago, where he wrote Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims (1884), arguing that American judicial methods were weighted against the poor. In 1886 he was elected to the Cook co. superior court, and in 1892 he was elected governor. In office he established himself as a champion of labor, reform, and liberal thought. Charging a miscarriage of justice, he pardoned three anarchists imprisoned as parties to the Haymarket riot of 1886. During the Pullman strikePullman strike,
in U.S. history, an important labor dispute. On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.
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 of 1894, when President Cleveland sent federal troops into Chicago, Governor Altgeld publicly termed the act unconstitutional. His extreme liberalism, coupled with his espousal of free silver, lost him reelection in 1896. Denounced as a radical in his own day, he was later regarded as a defender of the freedom of the individual against entrenched power.

Bibliography

See his writings and speeches, ed. by H. M. Christman (1960, repr. 1970); biography by H. Barnard (1938); study by R. Ginger (1958, repr. 1965).

Altgeld, John Peter

(1847–1902) governor; born in Nieder Selters, Germany. Brought to Ohio as a baby, he received little schooling while working on his father's farm. A Union private in the Civil War (1864–65), he then taught school in Ohio, moving to Missouri where he became a lawyer in 1871 and a county attorney (1874–75). Moving to Chicago, he opened his own law practice, making a fortune in real estate. He wrote Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims (1884), becoming Superior Court judge (1886–90), then chief justice (1890–91). As the Democratic governor of Illinois (1893–97), he gained sudden fame—and offended the conservative establishment—when he pardoned the remaining Haymarket Riot anarchists, claiming they had not been given a fair trial. He improved prison conditions and reformed trial and parole procedures. He advocated child labor laws and opposed the use of federal troops to end the Pullman Strike in 1894. After campaigning for William Jennings Bryan in 1896, he lost his own re-election campaign, returning to his law practice with his partner, Clarence Darrow. He was penniless when he died but his reputation as a progressive reformer increased over the years.
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