Born in 1851 in Chicago, Thomas grew up in Pittsburgh and married Helena Reinberg. He filled staff positions in the U.S. House of Representatives before serving as territorial secretary under governors Emery, Murray, and West. A member of the Utah Commission, he was named governor in 1889 by Benjamin Harrison. Regarding the Mormons, Thomas seemed ambivalent, favoring first the harsh measures in the Cullom Bill and, later, amnesty for convicted polygamists. Improved education for children and the development of irrigation to open more land for settlement were two of his major concerns. An unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for the first state governor in 1895, Thomas remained in Utah as postmaster of Salt Lake City from 1898 to 1914, and was also involved in land development, mining, and publishing. He died in Salt Lake City in 1924.