Born in Philadelphia on June 6, 1860, Charles Wesley Thomas was the son of grocer Benjamin and Martha A. Thomas. He attended public schools and followed his father’s profession as a grocer, later rising to a prominent position as one of the city’s most successful realtors. Preceding his political career, Thomas worked as an accounting clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Philadelphia general office, the 24-year old traveling to the state House of Representatives in 1884, returning to his seat in 1886 and 1888. During the 1886 campaign, he married Mattie R. Conard of Chester County.
The Republican Party appointed C. Wesley as the assistant secretary to the state committee in 1887, ascending to the organization’s state secretarial post in 1888. He retired from the House at the close of the 1889 session, joining Philadelphia Collector of Customs and former state committee chair, Tom Cooper, as the “Sage of Media’s” private secretary. Through the persuasion of Cooper, Quay, and the Republican state nominating caucus, Thomas ran for a Fourth District state senate seat in 1890, successfully bidding for reelection in 1894. He joined the Quay caucus and formally severed all prior ties with Philadelphia’s old McManes “combine” (or the Republican “Insurgent” faction). Wesley remained a Quay-Penrose proponent the remainder of his life.
In the upper house, Senator Thomas proved instrumental in passage of legislation relevant to the Capitol Beautification Act and the passage of a bill calling for the construction of a new state library and administration building. Pursuant to the Philadelphia Bullitt Bill’s passage, in 1884, he became a special committee member, sharing the objective “to investigate the official conduct of (row) offices” in Philadelphia.
Wesley served on Finance, Corporations, Railroads, Municipal Affairs, Education, and Legislative Apportionment and lent considerable support to legislation abolishing Philadelphia’s corrupt Public Building Commission. Senator Thomas served as a delegate to the 1888 and 1892 Republican State Conventions.
Thomas supported 1891 passage of the Baker Ballot Bill, the resolution instructing Congress to repeal the 1871 Force Bill and enact the Free Election Bill, and the state constitutional convention referendum. He defended Matt Quay during the same session’s “50-50” hearing, later (1893) voting for renewal of the Brooks High License Act. During his pro tem term, the senator helped guide the Superior Court Bill to passage and backed the Fee Bill, altering the method of compensation of local officials from fee, to salary. The senator voted to pass the 1895 Wrongful Injury Act, the 1891 Ballot Preservation Bill, the nominating convention regulatory legislation of 1897, the state Free Election Bill of the same session, and the 1897 Brewers and Distillers Act, adding a license fee and increasing the per-barrel tax on beer, wine, and other spirits. He opposed the 1893 Workhouse Law and supported the 1897 Joint Appeals Bill.
Retiring from the upper house, Senator Thomas received a McKinley appointment as Collector of Customs at the Port of Philadelphia, succeeding former senator Cooper, reappointed to the same post by President Roosevelt in 1902 and 1906. In 1906, he established a collection record, achieving an A-1 rating from the federal government for instituting reform programs and cost efficiency systems.
He actively participated in the local Republican Party, the Clover Club, the Union League of Philadelphia, and the Hamilton Republican Club. In 1904, he received acclaim as one of Philadelphia’s most prominent citizens. Thomas served as a Representative of the 24th Ward Republican City Campaign Committee until his death. The Honorable Charles Wesley Thomas died June 14, 1907, suffering a sudden, massive heart attack while vacationing at his Linwood (near Atlantic City), New Jersey summer home. He was 47 years old. A widely respected Philadelphian with impeccable moral standards, at his passing, city flags flew at half-staff.