Thomas, Norman (Mattoon)(1884–1968) reformer, socialist; born in Marion, Ohio. An ordained Presbyterian minister (1911), he served among the poor of New York City and became convinced that traditional religions and political parties were not satisfying contemporary American needs. He helped establish the Civil Liberties Bureau of the American Union Against Militarism (1917), the precursor to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which he helped found in 1920. Drawn to socialism, he officially joined the Socialist Party (1918) and gave up his pastorate, although he remained a minister through 1931. Associate editor of the Nation (1921–22) and codirector of the League for Industrial Democracy (1922–37), he ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist for a series of offices in New York. As the leader of the Socialist Party after 1926, he ran for president six times (1928–48). A pacifist, he tentatively supported World War II after Pearl Harbor, protested Japanese-Americans' internment, was critical of America dropping the atomic bomb, and founded the Post-War Council to support world peace. Devoted to a democratic socialism, he was opposed to Communists and purged them from the ranks of the ACLU (1940). He opposed the Vietnam War. To the end of his life he remained an active lecturer and a "presence" on the American public stage. Criticized as a poor organizer for failing to heal factional wounds or attending to party work, he was charged with the demise of socialism in this country, but historians argue that socialism had been defeated by the New Deal before he took control of the party. He has also been credited with working for many social reforms long before they became accepted and put into law.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.