Emperor Norton the First

On this Sunday, we thought we would visit a little known episode in American history, the reign of Emperor Norton the First, Emperor of the United States and Protector of  Mexico.

 The English born Norton came to the US  in1849 with a small fortune ( he lost the money investing in rice in Peru ). On September 17, 1859, Norton became the Emperor by publishing a proclamation:

 ”At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

Norton I.,
Emperor of the United States
17th September, 1859.

On October 12, Norton issued another proclamation abolishing Congress because of “fraud and corruption.” When he found out Congress had not been abolished, he ordered  Winfield Scott and the army to “clear the halls of Congress.” ( Scott did not do this ).

In Summer, 1860,  in a move to prevent Civil War, Norton abolished the country altogether. This plan also failed.

Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton

For the next 20 years, Norton became a celebrity in San Francisco, earning free meals and issuing Imperial Bonds to raise money. He was listed in a census under the occupation “Emperor”.  Of course, the census also listed him as insane, so…..

Emperor Norton died on January 8, 1880, when he collapsed at a street corner. He left no plans for succession.