Thomas, Norman Mattoon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Thomas, Norman Mattoon

Norman Mattoon Thomas, 1884–1968, American socialist leader, b. Marion, Ohio; grad. Princeton (1905), Union Theological Seminary (1911). He served as pastor of several Presbyterian churches and did settlement work in New York City until 1918. (He formally left the ministry in 1931.) In World War I, he became a pacifist and joined (1918) the Socialist party. He founded (1918) The World Tomorrow, was (1921–22) an associate editor of the Nation, and became (1922) codirector of the League for Industrial Democracy. He was also active in setting up the American Civil Liberties Union. Thomas unsuccessfully sought election as governor of New York (1924, 1938) and as mayor of New York City (1925, 1929). After the death (1926) of Eugene Debs, he assumed leadership of the Socialist party and was repeatedly (1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948) the party's candidate for president. He polled his highest vote, about 880,000, in 1932. An advocate of evolutionary socialism, Thomas was a constant critic of the American economic system and of both major parties; he strongly opposed American entry in World War II while bitterly denouncing both fascism and Soviet communism. After the war, he lectured and wrote extensively on the need for world disarmament and the easing of cold war tensions. In 1955, he resigned his official posts in the Socialist party, but he remained its chief spokesman until shortly before his death. His works include The Conscientious Objector in America (1923), Socialism of Our Time (1929), Human Exploitation (1934), Appeal to the Nations (1947), Socialist's Faith (1951), The Test of Freedom (1954), The Prerequisite for Peace (1959), Great Dissenters (1961), and Socialism Reexamined (1963).

See biographies by M. B. Seidler (2d ed. 1967), H. Fleischman (1964, repr. 1969), and B. K. Johnpoll (1970); Conscience (2011) by L. Thomas, his great-grandaughter.

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