Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Philip F. Thomas (1860–1861): Secretary of the Treasury

Philip Francis Thomas was born in 1810 in Easton, Maryland. Although he attended Dickinson College for two years, he was expelled because of a prank. Thomas settled down, stuided the law, and became a member of the state bar in 1831. Soon thereafter, he turned his attention to politics, running for the state assembly in 1834 as a Democrat. He lost that election and two others in 1836 and in 1837, but in 1838 he was successful and served in the state assembly from 1838 to 1839.

Thomas served as a member of the state constitutional convention in 1836 and was elected to the United States House of Representatives two years later. He served in Congress from 1839 to 1841, following which he returned to the practice of law and resumed membership in the Maryland state assembly (1843, 1845). From 1848 to 1851, Thomas served as the governor of Maryland and then became judge of the land office court of eastern Maryland; later, at President Millard Fillmore’s request, Thomas became comptroller of the U.S. Treasury.

Thomas declined President Franklin Pierce’s 1853 offer to become secretary of the Navy, but he did accept the position of collector of the port of Baltimore, a post he held from 1853 to 1860. In 1860, President Buchanan offered him the governorship of Utah, which he declined; Thomas served as U.S. commissioner of patents until December 1860, at which time Buchanan named him secretary of the treasury. Thomas served until the end of the Buchanan administration just four months later and returned to Maryland.

During the Civil War, Thomas was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates (1863). He then won election to the U.S. Senate (1867) but was denied his seat due to his alleged “armed hostility” against the Union during the Civil War. Instead of serving in the Senate, Thomas pursued his legal practice until 1874, when he won election to the House of Representatives. Serving a lone two-year term, he declined to run for reelection, choosing instead to run for the Senate in 1878. He lost that race and thereafter served in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1878 and 1883. Philip Francis Thomas died in 1890.