Monday, August 12, 2013

Anniversary: By Decree of Norton I Emperor of the United States, On This Day

On this day August 12th in 1869, this appeared in a San Francisco newspaper for all subjects of the land to review for public awareness:

Norton 1, Dei Gratia, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, being desirous of allaying the dissensions of party strife now existing within our realm, do hereby dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties, and also do hereby decree disfranchisement and imprisonment, for not more than ten nor less than five years, to all persons leading to any violation of this imperial decree, given at San Francisco Cal., this 12th day of August A.D. 1869.

Norton I was really a failed businessman, Joshua A. Norton, who in 1860 because of the oncoming Civil War got it in his head that what the United States really needed was an Emperor, and so declared himself as such.  Under most circumstances, this sort of thing gets ignored, except for the fact that back then newspapers were eager for crazy stuff to publish, and being an educated fellow Norton was literate enough to write decent decrees that got people's attention (when competing newspapers tried to make fake decrees, you could tell the fakes due to the poor spelling and the fakers' obsession with the "off with his head" meme recently popularized by Alice In Wonderland).  From there, Norton became a minor celebrity, a known figure as far as New York and even overseas (a Bolivian diplomat once met with Norton as though he was a genuine head of state), and was San Francisco's first tourist attraction once the railways made tourism a growing business.

In hindsight, when reviewing the decrees of Emperor Norton, they tended to show an interest in promoting the public trust, ending political strife, and fixing current ails.  Most famous was Norton's decree to get a bridge built between Oakland and San Francisco (the trains reached Oakland but couldn't reach the more populous and more prosperous San Francisco: the bridge was a compromise idea).

I've got a soft spot for the Emperor, because despite his going around believing he was something he wasn't, Norton was a pretty sane guy.  As Mr. Gaiman said when he first introduced me to the Emperor, "His madness keeps him sane".

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