John Peter Altgeld

John Peter Altgeld (1847 - 1902) was Clarence Darrow's mentor and one of the most important influences in Darrow's life and career. Altgeld was born in Germany and his family emigrated to the United States when he was a few months old and settled in Ohio. During the Civil War, he joined the Union Army at the age of sixteen and fought in an infantry unit until the end of the war. During the war he contracted a fever and nearly died. After the war Altgeld attended a seminary in Ohio for a brief period but left and walked from Ohio to Missouri. In Missouri, he studied law and became a lawyer in 1869 and was elected the state's attorney for Andrew County, Missouri in 1874. In 1875, Altgeld moved to Chicago and set up a prominent law practice. He also was very successful in real estate and ten years later his wealth was estimated at $1,000,000. In 1886 Altgeld was elected to the Cook County Superior Court as a Democrat and served on the bench until 1891. Altgeld was elected governor of Illinois in 1892 and served from 1893 to 1897. He was the first foreign-born governor of the state.

In his autobiography, Clarence Darrow recounts how while he was still living in Ohio he first became aware of Altgeld "Judge Richards, a police judge in Ashtabula, gave me my first sane idea of crime and criminals. He gave me a little book, 'Our Penal Code and Its Victims,' by Judge John P. Altgeld, of Chicago, which was a revelation to me. This book and the author came to have a marked influence upon me and my future." The actual title of the book is "Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims" and it so influenced Darrow that sometime after arriving in Chicago in 1888 he went to meet Altgeld. Darrow and Altgeld, who was at this time a judge, quickly became good friends and Darrow looked up to Altgeld perhaps more than any other person in his life. This photo is from Altgeld's book "Live Questions" published in 1899.