John Peter Altgeld
Governor of Illinois, 1893-1897.

Joseph B. Gill, Lieutenant Governor.

John Peter Altgeld

John Peter Altgeld
Governor of Illinois, 1893-1897.

John Peter Altgeld was born in Felters, near Cologne, Germany, December 30, 1847, and in boyhood accompanied his parents to America, the family settling in Ohio. At the age of 16 he enlisted in the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth Ohio Infantry, serving until the close of the war. His legal education was acquired at St. Louis and Savannah, Missouri, and from 1874 to ‘78 he was prosecuting attorney for Andrew County in that state.

In 1878 he removed to Chicago, where he devoted himself to professional work. In 1884 he led the Democratic forlorn hope as candidate for Congress in a strong Republican Congressional district, and in 1586 was elected to the bench of the Superior Court of Cook County, but resigned in August, 1891. The Democratic State Convention of 1892 nominated him for Governor and he was elected the following November, being the first foreign-born citizen to hold that office in the history of the State, and the first Democrat elected since 1852. In 1896 he was a prominent factor in the Democratic National Convention which nominated William J. Bryan for President, and was also a candidate for re-election to the office of Governor, but was defeated by John R. Tanner, the Republican nominee.

Governor Altgeld was married in Chicago in 1877 to Miss Emma Ford. His death occurred in Joliet, Illinois, March 12, 1902. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. The State erected a monument to Governor Altgeld in Lincoln Park, Chicago, 1915.

Governor Altgeld wrote many addresses and newspaper articles on social, political and economic questions. He also published several books on like subjects, among them: The Cost of Something for Nothing, Live Questions, including our Penal Machinery and its Victims.

Source: “The Governors of Illinois, 1818-1918”; Issued by the Illinois Centennial Commission


JOHN P. ALTGELD—1893-1897.

JOHN P. ALTGELD, the twenty-third governor of Illinois, was the first man other than a Republican who had been elected to this office in forty years. Altgeld was a native of Prussia, having been born there in 1848. His father emigrated to America when he was a lad, and settled on a farm near Mansfield, Ohio.

At the age of sixteen young Altgeld enlisted in the 163d Ohio Infantry. After the war he taught school and studied law. He entered a law office at Savannah, Mo. In 1874, he was elected prosecuting attorney of Andrew County. Two years later he resigned, and moved to Chicago. He took little interest in politics for several years, but in 1884 he accepted the nomination for congress on the Democratic ticket, and greatly reduced the overwhelming Republican majority. In 1888, he was elected superior court judge of Cook County; he resigned in 1891. In 1892, he was elected Governor, defeating Joseph W. Fifer (Rep.) in spite of the fact of Fifer’s acceptable administration. In 1896, he was renominated for Governor but was defeated by John R. Tanner (Rep.), Ex-Gov. Altgeld died in Chicago, March 12, 1902.

The events of his administration were: Legislative Acts – Reapportionment of State, giving Illinois twenty-two congressmen; modification of Edwards law; creation of the State Insurance Department; State Board of Factory Inspectors; and State Home for Juvenile Female Offenders; establishing of Eastern Normal School at Charleston, Northern Normal School at DeKalb, Asylum for Incurable Insane at Bartonville, and Farmer’s Institutes; also, State Board of Arbitration, Prison parole system adopted, Municipal Civil Service law.

June 26, 1892, Gov. Altgeld pardoned the anarchists, Neebe, Fielden, and Schwab. World’s Colombian Exposition opened May 1st, closed October 30th.

During Altgeld’s administration there occurred serious labor troubles. At the Pullman and American Railway Union strikes the State and Federal troops were called out. Gov. Altgeld protested against the use of Federal troops in Chicago.

Source: Decisive Dates in Illinois History, A Story of the State, By Lottie B. Jones. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company, 1909.