Norton I, Emperor of the United States


Empnort2.GifIf you were to time-travel to San Francisco in the 1800s, you might run into a strange man making an inspection of the city streets. He would be dressed in a military uniform, a beaver hat with a peacock feather protruding from it, and he would be carrying an umbrella as if it were a royal scepter.

Lucky you. You just met the Emperor of the United States and the Protector of Mexico. Born Joshua Adam Norton (1819-1880), the man had a few bats in his belfry, but the Californian who dubbed himself the Emperor became a beloved character in 19th century San Francisco, a city that has never much minded if your screws were a tiny bit too loose.

When returning to San Francisco after a failed business venture in 1859, Norton issued an announcement in the local newspapers that he was now the Emperor of the United States of America ” at the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States.” He then called for a meeting at the local music hall so he could make “alterations in the existing laws of the Union ….”

Nortproc Norton I was just as well-known for his proclamations as he was for his presence, and he issued them frequently. He called for the dissolution of the United States Congress, a gesture which was naturally ignored by the government, so the Emperor turned to more local matters. He once issued a royal proclamation banning the use of the word “Frisco,” saying guilty parties “shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars.”

As Emperor, he always ate free in restaurants. On occasion, he even issued his own currency, and local shops usually treated it as real money. The census record of 1879 actually lists Joshua Norton’s occupation as “Emperor.” The uniform he wore was given to him by the United States Army.

So the question is: who was the idiot? Certainly not Norton. In this case of the Emperor having no clothes, the town chose not to see his shortcomings. If one person makes fake money, and another person takes it, who is the silly one?

Norton I, The United States’ first Emperor proved that anyone –but anyone– can lead a village of idiots. In his own way, he was a genius.


13 Responses to “Norton I, Emperor of the United States”

  1. Hi!
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  2. 2 imperious1928

    How do you know what to write about?

  3. Thanks David 🙂

    imperious1928: I actually don’t know to be honest. I just manage to come up with something when I need to. I do occasionally have bad days in which I can’t come up with anything at all – then I need to spend hours searching for ideas.

  4. There is so much more to the story of Norton The First that jfrater didn’t have space for. I suggest those interested look more into it. There is a biography published, but I cannot recall the author. There is something wondrous to me about Norton’s tale.

  5. 5 Openeyed

    Ha ha! He was a genius! That would take a lot of charisma though, I bet that he was quite a character.

  6. 6 imcrystalclear

    Ha ha ha…Only in San Francisco. I LOVE this site.

  7. 7 abdulhamid

    “If one person makes fake money, and another person takes it, who is the silly one? ”

    The irony in that statement. We are living in such times today. Bailouts anyone? Now our shiny new emperor wears a nice suit and wags his silver tongue with the aid of a teleprompter.

  8. my mother is causing me a lot of problems.i-am 46 years old.I will be Fourty Seven in December. i talk to uncle sam about things,” but – he” don’t seem to be helping much.I got fired from my job for something that i didn’t say or do, and the police said they just did’nt want me there.I graduated high school ,creative writing and creative writing graduating class ,”from the”, Stratford career institutie. My mother is calling, around and telling people, that i don’t have A EDUCATION when i do.I-am suppose to take a census test at lee college tomorrow, and my mother is going AROUND AND TELLING PEOPLE,I DON’T HAVE A-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION,WHEN I DO.I -have, my first letter certificate, “from” lee college,”for my”, Ase Ged high school “From”,- LEE COLLEGE,but they don’t pass-on c’s and d’s-at -LEE COLLEGE,they only pass you on a’s, b’a, c’s and-d’s and-i- had to ta- ke the classes back over in 2003and2004, but i had to have ninety dollars to take the test over again, and i got fired for something that i did’nt say or do. I am skinney real real bad,and need money to pay my rent and bills and to-buy, my me food and things that i need for my apartment and my family and people are jealous of me, an d-they are trying to kill me. i don’t need a high shool education from lee college. I passed the 10th grade at Sam Houston high school,”but” did not finish the11th or 12th, “but did”, go to, the last part of, the 11TH grade, before i quit, Sam Houston High School,and no, i were not, on drugs. i had a lot of, family problems”,well-i”,better go for now.”Thank-you”-and-Good- bye”,”Sign”,-Stephanie diane curry;1300 EAST JAME’S STREET,apartment-27-,Baytown Texas77520″.{INDEED}”.

    • 9 TR


    • 10 crank

      Norton II lives in Baytown Texas under the pseudo Stephanie diane curry. talking about “silly”.. why there you go!!!

  9. 11 Jennier

    My old brother is quite the eccentric. He has Aspergers Syndrome a mild form of autism. He speaks aburptly and bluntly. Total Anchorman style. Anyways when he was in HS (he went to a special school for the disabled) my mother got a call saying that he was refusing to acknowledge anyone or do any work unless he was referred to as “Chickenhead the Conquerer” apparantly the teacher was all worked up and asked my mother what she should do, any my mother replied “Well I guess you better start calling him Chickenhead the Conquerer”.
    True Story. I love my family.

  10. I usually don’t usually post on many another Blogs, however I just has to say thank you… keep up the amazing work. Ok unfortunately its time to get to school.

  11. 13 supaflytnt

    chickenhead the conquer,man i wish i’d thought of that! sigh, i guess i’ll just beg for change instead.

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