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John Peter Altgeld

Gov. John Peter Altgeld

  • January 10, 1893 - January 11, 1897
  • Democrat
  • December 30, 1847
  • March 12, 1902
  • Other
  • Married Emma Ford
  • Army


John P. Altgeld, Illinois’ twenty-second governor, was born in Niedersellers, Germany, on December 30, 1847. His family emigrated to the United States, settling in Richland County, Ohio, where Altgeld attained a limited education. During the Civil War, he enlisted and served as a private in the 164th Ohio Infantry. After his military service, he studied law, and established a legal career in Missouri. Altgeld entered public service in 1874, as prosecuting attorney of Andrew County, Missouri, a position he held for four years. After moving to Illinois, he served on the bench of Cook County’s Superior Court from 1886 to 1891. Altgeld won the 1892 Democratic gubernatorial nomination and was elected governor of Illinois on November 8, 1892. He was sworn into office on January 10, 1893. During his tenure, a state home for juvenile offenders was founded, the state board of pardons was established, the Illinois farmers’ institute was initiated, the naval militia was instituted, child labor laws were improved, and a commission was formed to advance the standardization in state laws. Altgeld also pardoned the three surviving Hay Market anarchists, citing they had not received a fair trial. However, this act hurt him politically when he ran for reelection. He left office on January 11, 1897, and retired from politics, after an 1899 defeat in the Chicago mayoral race. Governor John P. Altgeld, who authored Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims in 1884, passed away on March 12, 1902. He was buried at the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

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