Childhood & Early Life
Born as the oldest of the six children to Emma Williams Mattoon and Weddington Evans Thomas, a Presbyterian minister, he had an uneventful childhood.
He completed his education from Marion High School and attended Bucknell University which he left after a year to join Princeton University from where he graduated in 1905.
After undertaking a trip around the world, he decided to follow the footsteps of his father and enrolled to Union Theological seminary. In 1911, he graduated from the seminary and was ordained a Presbyterian minister.
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At first, he became an assistant to Rev. Henry Van Dyke at the fashionable Brick Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Rev. Following this, he was made the pastor for the East Harlem Presbyterian Church, ministering Italian-American Protestants.
His preaching against the American participation in the First World War led his fellow alumni from Princeton and a few leaders of the Presbyterian Church in New York to shun him.
He resigned from his pastorate when church stopped the funding of American Parish's social programs though he did not formally leave the ministry until after his mother’s death in 1931.
It was his stand against the Great War which enabled him to draw closer to Socialist Party of America (SPA), a staunchly antimilitarist organization. Soon, he joined the party and worked energetically for it.
In the magazine, ‘The World Tomorrow’, started by the organization, he became the editor in January 1918 and strived to make it the voice of liberal Christian social activism.
Soon, moving to a secular journalism, he became the associate editor of the Nation magazine.
He contested for various offices on the Socialist Party ticket. These include: Governor of New York in 1924, Mayor of New York in 1925 and 1929, New York State Senate in 1926, and Alderman in 1927.
In 1928, he contested the U.S Presidential elections as the nominee of the Socialist Party.This was first of his six consecutive campaigns for the office of the U.S. President. As an articulate spokesperson, he won great admiration of the middle class Americans.
In 1934, he ran for the office of U.S. Senator from New York, obtaining the second highest vote earned by any socialist candidate in the New York state elections.
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Over the period of time, Socialist Party continued losing its strength, becoming minor and inconsequential element in the political system of America. But, Norman felt much satisfied seeing his programs being taken over by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
While, some of the socialists in his party joined the Democratic Party led by Roosevelt, others left in support of the Popular Front movement of the late 1930s. Some left because of Thomas’s opposition to the involvement of the United States in the European and Asian wars after 1939.
Though he gave his critical support to the American war effort after the Pearl Harbour, he condemned the captivity and forced relocation of Japanese Americans.
Turning a staunch rival of Soviet communism, he also criticized the American foreign policy, which focused mainly on militarization and the growing power of military in American government.
He criticized the government for the escalating rate of poverty and racism, and also for the intervention of United States in the internal affairs of other nations.
During his last years he was a strong critic of the Vietnam War. He was one of the signatories to the 1968, “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.