This cartoon from the back cover of the July 15, 1893 issue of the magazine Judge is representative of the public response to Governor Altgeld's pardon of the anarchists. With his enormous knife labeled "PARDON," the governor lets loose the crazed and savage hounds of socialism, anarchy, and murder, which immediately set upon the helpless figure of "Columbia," whose children cling to her gown.

In the background, the monument to the murdered police, based on the one in the Haymarket, stands frozen, unable to assist in the fight against the enemies whose cowardly assault cost the brave officers their lives. Altgeld's cynical attitude and sinister intentions are obvious in the dark expression on his face, the angle of his eyes, and the cigar held nonchalantly in the fingers of his left hand.

In its editorial on the subject, the Chicago Tribune observed that Altgeld's action showed that he "was not merely an alien by birth, but an alien by temperament and sympathies . . . . He has apparently not a drop of true American blood in his veins." The paper reviewed all the details of the trial again to prove how wrong Altgeld was, and soon carried a front-page story in which it attributed Altgeld's action to long-standing resentment against Gary and other judges for their handling of a decision in a real estate dispute in which Altgeld was involved. The Tribune also published an anthology of dozens of opinions similarly critical of Altgeld from across the nation.

Others attacked Altgeld's arrogance in reversing a decision endorsed by the state and federal supreme courts. Altgeld was called every sort of name, central among them "anarchist." When he lost his reelection campaign in 1896, his enemies attributed the defeat to the pardon, though it was also a result of his deep involvement in the failed national presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan.

The negative response did not come as a surprise to Altgeld. When Clarence Darrow had prodded Altgeld to act earlier in the year, the governor told Darrow not to deceive himself into thinking that if the anarchists were freed it would be a popular decision. "If I conclude to pardon those men," Darrow later recalled Altgeld saying, "it will not meet with the approval that you expect; let me tell you that from that day I will be a dead man."

On the morning of the pardon, June 26, 1893, Altgeld had his secretary summon Brand Whitlock, then a young staff member in the secretary of state's office, to prepare the pardon forms. The governor also called in William Hinrichsen, the secretary of state, and surprised him by asking if he wanted to place his signature personally on the forms, rather than have them completed by a clerk. When Hinrichsen asked Altgeld if it was "good policy" to pardon the men, Altgeld pounded his desk and said, "It is right!" In this instance the privilege of delivering the message was entrusted to E. S. Dreyer, the foreman of the grand jury that had indicted the anarchists and who had become a supporter of amnesty. When told of Altgeld's intentions, Dreyer was so moved that he was speechless.

As he was walking to the Capitol the next morning, Whitlock encountered the governor, mounted on horseback. "Well, the storm will break now," Whitlock recalled saying. His account continues: "'Oh, yes,' [Altgeld] replied, with a not wholly convincing air of throwing off a care, 'I was prepared for that. It was merely doing right.'"

For more on the text of the pardon, see the "From the Archive" section.