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Hail Josh, America’s first (and only) emperor

And Emperor Norton I. wasn’t kidding. In his royal decree, which was published in several newspapers, Norton I called on “representatives of the various states of the Union to meet in the Musical Hall” in San Francisco. (They have not). He then banned Congress from meeting in Washington (they didn’t) and ordered both political parties to break up (they didn’t). What he achieved was to get the city directory to register his profession as “Emperor” and get the local nickname “Mad Monarch”.

But Norton, I wasn’t a terrible emperor – in fact, he was the best America ever had. His Majesty advocated much-needed legal reform and opposed the rampant corruption in the days after Tammany Hall. Among his numerous published proclamations, he also proposed the creation of a kind of League of Nations decades before the rest of the world hit on the idea. And the Franciscans will always appreciate him as the visionary who campaigned for gas light on every street and built a suspension bridge at the point where the legendary Bay Bridge would later be built in 1


Of course, its real worth to San Francisco was not a benevolent legislature but a delightful tourist attraction. Exciting rumors surrounded the Imperial Kook, who marched through the streets in a homemade Royal Union uniform. Some claimed Norton must be the secret son of Napoleon III – which had to do with his genetic trait of compulsive self-coronation. As promised, Norton I was good for business, just not what he intended. Many Franciscans sold souvenirs, including Action figuresof its resemblance. He also had such a following that small business owners loved to be greeted by his peacock presence, so the venue’s owners reserved balcony seats for him and his two dogs. Shopkeepers even let him pay his own imperial money.

The Norton IOU.

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