Norman Mattoon Thomas (November 20, 1884 – December 19, 1968) was a leading American socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.
Thomas was the oldest of six children, born November 20, 1884 in Marion, Ohio to Emma Williams Mattoon and Weddington Evans Thomas, a Presbyterian minister. Thomas had an uneventful midwestern childhood and adolescence, helping to put himself through Marion High School as a paper carrier for Warren G. Harding's Marion Daily Star. Like other paper carriers, he reported directly to Florence Kling Harding. "No pennies ever escaped her," said Thomas. The summer after he graduated from high school his father accepted a pastorate at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, which allowed Norman to attend Bucknell University. He left Bucknell after one year to attend Princeton University, the beneficiary of the largesse of a wealthy uncle by marriage. Thomas graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1905.
After some settlement work and a trip around the world, Thomas decided to follow in his father's footsteps and enrolled in Union Theological Seminary. He graduated from the seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1911. After assisting the Rev. Henry Van Dyke at the fashionable Brick Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, Thomas was appointed as pastor for the East Harlem Presbyterian Church, ministering to Italian-American Protestants. Union Theological Seminary had been, at that time, a center of the Social Gospel movement and liberal politics, and as a minister, Thomas preached against American participation in the First World War. This pacifist stance led to his being shunned by many of his fellow alumni from Princeton, and opposed by some of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church in New York. When church funding of the American Parish's social programs was stopped, Thomas resigned his pastorate. Despite this resignation of his position, Thomas did not formally leave the ministry until 1931, after his mother's death.