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The Wayward Liberal

The Wayward Liberal: A Political Biography of Donald Richberg

Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Wayward Liberal
    Book Description:

    In the first political biography of Donald Richberg, Thomas E. Vadney traces the continuities and discontinuities in the American reform tradition from the days of the Progressives to the years after the New Deal. Richberg's strong advocacy of the earlier liberalism contrasted with his equally strong rejection of post-New Deal liberalism.

    At the beginning of the New Deal, Richberg supported Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration program, but as time went on he was unable to accept the growth of big government and the welfare state that later evolved from it. Many of the old liberals firmly believed in the viability of competition, opportunity, and individualism, and abhorred the later efforts of younger liberals to expand the functions of government. Donald Richberg's story is one of a persistent faithfulness to the older concept of liberalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6473-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER I The Making of a Progressive
    (pp. 3-16)

    In his prime, Donald Richberg was once described as resembling “an amiable woodchuck”—tall and a bit chubby, yet surprisingly loose and agile, with an ever-ready smile and a glad hand.¹ But beneath the easygoing exterior there was a studiously intense individual, one given to theorizing and moralizing about social and economic problems, about matters of law and the Constitution, and about the ultimate questions of life itself. A man of soaring ambition, Richberg immersed himself in the world of big business, organized labor, and national politics. His work was his life, and his need for personal recognition and success...

  5. CHAPTER II The Anxious Reformer
    (pp. 17-39)

    Richberg’s first taste of political activity came within a year after he joined his father’s law firm—in the 1905 Chicago mayoralty campaign. In this and succeeding contests, he consistently lined up with the city’s independents on such issues as traction franchises, utility rate regulation, municipal ownership of public utilities, corruption in city administration, and the other perennial problems of American municipal government at the tum of the century. Richberg was one of the younger members of a group of future Progressive party leaders which included Harold Ickes, Jane Addams, Raymond Robins, Charles E. Merriam, and Medill McCormick.¹

    It was...

  6. CHAPTER III Labor Lawyer
    (pp. 40-65)

    Donald Richberg’s eminence as a labor advocate in the 1920s testified to his competence as a lawyer and to his deep commitment to causes which he identified with the public interest. His initial involvement with organized labor, however, was somewhat the product of chance. Prior to 1920, Richberg had had no labor clients in his private practice, nor had he been involved in any court battles with unions. His only contact with Chicago labor leaders had been in the form of casual acquaintances made during the course of political campaigning for the city’s various reform groups or for the Progressives....

  7. CHAPTER IV Empire-Building
    (pp. 66-84)

    Just as the shopmen’s strike had led to agitation for new railroad legislation to replace the Transportation Act of 1920, so too the Railway Labor Act of 1926 inspired a further development in the organization of railroad labor. By joining together, the shop crafts and the transportation brotherhoods had been able to destroy the Railroad Labor Board and secure passage of the Railway Labor Act—objectives that each union working separately could never have realized. The lesson was not lost on Rich berg; the informal alliances that had carried out the shopmen’s strike and worked for new legislation must be...

  8. CHAPTER V Consolidation
    (pp. 85-105)

    The inauguration of the Hoover administration, something that Donald Rich berg had worked for almost to the end of the 1928 campaign, brought little in the way of change as far as railway labor was concerned. The kinds of problems and the nature of the opposition that Richberg encountered remained much the same as before. Most of his work continued to be concentrated in the Railway Labor Executives’ Association, though again he became involved in related but separate reform projects, such as a Conference of Progressives called by Senator George Norris of Nebraska in 1931. Richberg’s RLEA work followed the...

  9. CHAPTER VI The Door to Preferment
    (pp. 106-123)

    After the disappointments of the Hoover years, Donald Richberg was receptive to any sign that the Democrats rather than the Republicans would carry on his concept of the progressive tradition. Hoover’s desire for vindication and his control of the party machinery virtually assured that he would be the Republican nominee in 1932. To Richberg, the Republican party could only promise more of the same. The Democrats thus became the center of his interest. Of course, after the initial phase of Hoover’s 1928 campaign, Richberg had no personal stake in the administration, and this undoubtedly was a factor in turning him...

  10. CHAPTER VII The President’s Counselor I
    (pp. 124-145)

    Donald Richberg’s understanding of the task facing the National Recovery Administration was ambivalent and sometimes contradictory. On the one hand, he condemned the business community for bringing the country to the verge of economic disintegration, and on the other, he believed that the answer to the depression lay in combined action, under a government watchdog, among these same businessmen to control the destructive characteristics of competition and to set fair labor standards.¹ What Richberg did not count on was that the businessmen would make friends with the government watchdog, so that the NRA did not keep the upper hand in...

  11. CHAPTER VIII The President’s Counselor II
    (pp. 146-169)

    Donald Richberg’s emergence as chief coordinator of the recovery program and overseer of the National Recovery Administration not surprisingly inspired an outpouring of political commentary about his rising fortunes. He appeared on the cover ofTimemagazine for the week of September 10, 1934, and was soon dubbed “Assistant President,” much to his outward displeasure. His various coordinating assignments were further consolidated on October 31, 1934, when the Executive Council was merged with the National Emergency Council, and the Industrial Emergency Committee was made a subcommittee of the National Emergency Council. Richberg continued as director of NEC, while still holding...

  12. CHAPTER IX On the Sidelines
    (pp. 170-187)

    The story of Donald Richberg after 1935 is the story of a gradual alienation from the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, a strengthening of his identification with the businessman’s approach to recovery, and a waning of political influence. Though he enjoyed something of a resurgence at the White House as an expert on constitutional reform and business-government relations in 1937–1938, Richberg was effectively disarmed of all political power by the time of the Second World War. Thenceforth, his political activities were confined to propaganda; he substituted preaching for action. And as Richberg drew farther and farther away from the...

  13. CHAPTER X Reaping the Whirlwind
    (pp. 188-205)

    Once he had lost his place among Franklin Roosevelt’s close advisers, Donald Richberg divided his attention between the practice of law and propaganda work designed to influence the administration from the outside. In the latter regard, he was convinced that Roosevelt had to be brought back to the principles which had guided the early days of the New Deal. But Richberg’s publicity work was symbolic of his decline in political stature. Unable to control power himself, or after 1938 even to have an intimate influence over those who did, he was forced to turn to the platform as the only...

  14. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 206-210)
  15. Index
    (pp. 211-223)