Richberg, Donald

views updated


Donald Randall Richberg (July 10, 1881–November 27, 1960) was a labor attorney prominent in drafting the National Industrial Recovery Act and administering the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Richberg was raised in comfortable circumstances in Chicago, receiving his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his LL. B. from Harvard Law School. He embraced progressivism early in his career, fighting against utility monopolies and for the 1912 Progressive Party candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt.

Richberg came to national prominence in the field of labor law. He did not advocate direct government intervention in collective bargaining, but believed that unions needed legal protection if they were to effectively protect their members' interests. He was particularly concerned with the use of injunctions to undermine strikes. Richberg worked closely with railway unions to remedy this problem, helping to draft the 1926 Railway Labor Act and the more broadly cast Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act in 1932.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's first years in office marked the height of Richberg's national influence. He helped to write section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act, which appeared to secure the right of workers' to organize. Richberg subsequently became general counsel of the NRA and served on a number of New Deal agencies, most notably as executive director of the National Emergency Council. Richberg took over as head of the NRA in its last months and unsuccessfully defended its constitutionality before the U.S. Supreme Court.

During his service in the First New Deal Richberg steadily moved away from his early support of organized labor. He made a key decision that undermined the usefulness of section 7a and increasingly became identified with business opinion on industrial relations. Richberg left government service for private law practice after the NRA was struck down.

After leaving office Richberg continued his drift toward conservatism. He soon became a vocal opponent of the Wagner Act, believing that it allowed the government to intervene too much on the side of labor, and a critic of the power wielded by unions in politics and the economy. At the end of World War II, he played an important role in the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which sought to place limits on the power of organized labor. Richberg completed his journey away from the progressive ideals of his youth by becoming a vocal opponent of the government bureaucracies and social welfare programs advocated by liberals in the 1940s and 1950s.



Irons, Peter. The New Deal Lawyers. 1982

Richberg, Donald R. Tents of the Mighty. 1930

Richberg, Donald R. My Hero: The Indiscreet Memoirs of an Eventful but Unheroic Life. 1954.

Vadney, Thomas. The Wayward Liberal: A Political Biography of Donald Richberg. 1970.

Andrew A. Workman

About this article

Richberg, Donald

Updated About content Print Article