American reformer Henry Demarest Lloyd (1847-1903) epitomized the patrician social reformer in late-19th-century America. His career is characterized by the motto of a journal he helped found: "Independent in everything, neutral in nothing."
Henry Demarest Lloyd was born in New York City on May 1, 1847. His father was a poor Dutch Reformed minister, but the relatives with whom the Lloyds lived were well-to-do, and he was raised comfortably and given a good education. He graduated from Columbia College, attended Columbia's law school, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1869.
Lloyd's background of strict moralistic Calvinism and Jacksonian egalitarianism inclined him toward concern with social ills. He accepted a position with the Free Trade League that involved editing the Free Trader and arguing against a high protective tariff. He was also active in the Young Men's Municipal Reform Association, which helped topple the notorious Tweed ring from New York City politics. His association with the People's Pictorial Tax-payer, a Liberal Republican organ, plunged him into the anti-Grant movement of 1872, aimed at corruption in politics.
In 1873 Lloyd moved to Chicago, where he served in several editorial positions on the Tribune. He married the daughter of a wealthy stockholder in the paper, but estrangement from his father-in-law began when Lloyd showed interest in purchasing his own newspaper. However, Lloyd never fulfilled his wish to control his own crusading liberal organ. Instead, he became the leading freelance journalist of his day after writing a denunciation of the Standard Oil monopoly for the Atlantic Monthly in 1881. This became the core of his famous book Wealth against Commonwealth (1894).
In 1885 Lloyd resigned from the Tribune and began his 20-year career as spokesman for the reform programs of the day. He supported insane-asylum reform, the cooperative movement, attempts at organizing a utopian colony in the unsettled West, Jane Addams's Hull House, organized labor and its 8-hour movement, and several celebrated academic-freedom cases. In 1889 Lloyd's father-in-law disinherited him because of his "radicalism, " but his own means were enough to provide a comfortable upper-middle-class life, with two homes and leisure time for writing.
Wealth against Commonwealth, Lloyd's most important book, indicted John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil as the prototypes of the industrial monopolies Lloyd despised. The book appealed to America's intellectual elite and converted many to Lloyd's genteel reformism, which suggested that democratic brotherhood be applied to the economy. Although he supported a great many specific causes, Lloyd never developed a more concrete ideology. A courageous, militant, and unbending spokesman of the genteel crusading tradition, he never accepted the socialist principle of class conflict.
Further Reading on Henry Demarest Lloyd
A good biography of Lloyd is Chester McArthur Destler, Henry Demarest Lloyd and the Empire of Reform (1963). Historical background is in Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (1955), and John G. Sproat, Best Men: Liberal Reformers in the Gilded Age (1968).
Additional Biography Sources
Digby-Junger, Richard, The journalist as reformer: Henry Demarest Lloyd and Wealth against commonwealth, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.