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Norman Thomas

Norman Thomas was born on November 20, 1884, in Marion, Ohio. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and after receiving university education at Bucknell and Princeton and taking a trip around the world, he attended Union Theological Seminary and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1911. As pastor of the East Harlem Presbyterian Church, as well as chairman of the American Parish, a settlement house, Thomas gained exposure to social needs and developed a passion for social justice. His pacifist views made him strongly opposed American entry into World War I and led to his alienation from the Presbyterian establishment in New York. In 1917, Thomas was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union, established to protect the rights of conscientious objectors to the draft. Drawn to the political and social positions of the Socialist Party, Thomas became active in party politics, assuming leadership of the party after the death in 1926 of Eugene V. Debs. He was the party`s nominee for president six times between 1928 and 1948, never winning an electoral vote but getting almost a million popular votes in 1932. In 1936, again a candidate for president, Thomas wrote a book entitled, "After the New Deal, What?" In it, he laid out a vision for a Socialist America that took an optimistic view of developments in the Soviet Union and called for an economy with only limited room for private enterprise. In the years that followed, he grew less enchanted with Russia and more willing to accept elements of a mixed economy in America. Norman Thomas was never inclined to bend his views to prevailing opinion, and his opposition to American support for the Allies before World War II cost him and the Socialist Party popular support. During the McCarthy era, Thomas advocated civil rights for American communists, even though he personally did not support their positions. He was an early opponent of the Vietnam War. Norman Thomas was regarded as a pillar of integrity even though he never enjoyed electoral success. "I get more applause than votes," he once said. Thomas died on December 19, 1968.