Initially, the government stated that it would not become involved in the Pullman strike unless a governor requested federal intervention. However, after Attorney General Richard Olney obtained an injunction from the federal court declaring the strike illegal, President Grover Cleveland sent military intervention.
The Pullman Strike began on May 11, 1894, when workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company failed to reach an agreement with their employer over declining wages. In addition, many employees lived in unsavory conditions. The strike began without the support of the American Railroad Union, although the union's leader Eugene Debs eventually moved to make things better for the workers.
The managers overseeing the railroad workers formed the General Managers Association and stated that they should have the right to set whatever employment terms they wanted for their employees. To support this, they requested that the government send federal troops to overcome the strike. However, President Grover Cleveland stated that he would not send troops unless a governor requested intervention. The governor of Illinois, John Altgeld, stated that he believed managers and workers should have the same employment rights, and so he declined to request federal intervention.
When the strike began to turn violent, Attorney General Richard Olney had the strike declared illegal. At this point, President Cleveland sent federal troops to intervene, which initially made the problem worse. After the strike ended, approximately half of the strikers returned to work, while others were blacklisted from working on the railroads. This was the first time the government intervened in strike action.