Philip Francis Thomas


Less than one year out of the long and colorful political career of Philip Francis Thomas was spent in the service of the Patent Office.

A native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he was born in Easton on September 12, 1810. Leaving the beaten political track of his Whig ancestors, he became a Democrat and was for half a century more or less active in Maryland politics. The son of a doctor, he studied law at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was admitted to the bar in 1831, and at the age of 24 plunged into Maryland politics, finally getting himself elected to the legislature.

He entered national politics in 1839 when he was elected to the 26th Congress from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Returning to state politics, after other offices, he was elected governor in 1847. He declined a position in President Pierce's cabinet as Secretary of the Navy but accepted the position of Collector of Customs at Baltimore in 1853.

Later, he declined an offer of the governorship of Utah and an appointment as Treasurer of the United States, but accepted the position of Commissioner of Patents, beginning his term of office on February 16, 1860, and resigning on December 10 of the same year to become Secretary of the Treasury in President Buchanan's cabinet.

During Thomas' administration of the Patent Office there was important patent legislation before Congress, urged in turn by Commissioners Mason, Holt, and Bishop. Most of the proposed laws received enactment after Thomas' administration, and it does not appear that he played any great part in urging the legislative changes.

To Commissioner Thomas, however, is to be given the credit for setting apart an "Examiner-of-Interferences". In the Report for 1860. Acting Commissioner Shugert states that "Commissioner Thomas deputed one of the most practiced and competent Examiners to discharge the duty of hearing and determining interferences, whose action, characterized by great industry and ability, it is believed, has given eminent satisfaction.'

Thomas' sympathies during the Civil War were strongly with the South, a fact which was to cause him some embarrassment later. Having been elected to the United States Senate from Maryland in 1867, he was denied a seat in that body for "having given aid and comfort to the enemy.” The technical charge against him was that of providing clothing to his son while in the Confederate army.

In 1874 Thomas was again returned to the National House of Representatives, and became a member of the Ways and Means Committee, strongly attacking, in one instance, "the encroachment of the executive branch of the Government upon the prerogatives of Congress.”

Subsequently, he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the U. S. Senate, and twice was returned to the Maryland State Legislature.

His last years were spent practicing his profession at Easton, Maryland, where he died October 2, 1890.


*Republished with permission of the Patent and Trademark Office Society from the article Biographical Sketches of the Commissioners of Patents, 18 J.P.O.S. 145 (1936).  The United States Patent and Trademark Office is grateful for the Society’s assistance.