Between the gerrymandering, extreme partisanship, and getting multiple politicians in office who believe that drinking bleach is a good idea, it's fair to say that the American democratic experiment isn't going well. So, in agreement with the country's many Neo-Nazis, maybe it's time for another mode of government -- say, an empire. But only under one condition: whoever becomes emperor must continue the great work of their sole predecessor, U.S. Emperor Norton I.
Born in England in 1815, Joshua Abraham Norton sailed for San Francisco in 1849 to become a famed business mogul. But a failed Peruvian rice scheme left him bankrupt and unable to convince the American courts to give him back his money. Deciding then and there that the U.S. government was a sham, the musket-era libertarian defied its legitimacy by crowning himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.
And Emperor Norton I wasn't kidding around. In his royal decree, published in several papers, Norton I demanded "representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall" in San Francisco. (They didn't). He then forbade Congress from assembling in Washington (they didn't) and ordered both political parties to disband (they didn't). What he did achieve was getting the city directory to register his profession as "Emperor" and to earn the local nickname of "Mad Monarch."
But Norton I wasn't a terrible emperor -- in fact, he was the best one America ever had. His Majesty advocated for much needed legal reforms and stood up against the rampant corruption in the post-Tammany Hall days. Among his many published proclamations, he also proposed the establishment of some sort of league of nations, decades before the rest of the world came around to the idea. And San Franciscans will always cherish him as the visionary who spoke up for gaslight in every street and building a suspension bridge on the spot where, in 1936, the iconic Bay Bridge would later rise.
Of course, his real value to San Francisco was not as a benevolent lawgiver but as a delightful tourist attraction. Exciting rumors surrounded the imperial kook parading around the streets in a self-made regal Union uniform. Some claimed that Norton had to be the secret son of Napoleon III -- what with his genetic trait of compulsive self-coronation. As promised, Norton I was good for business, just not in the way he intended. Many San Franciscans sold souvenirs, including action figures, of his likeness. He had also gathered such a following that small business owners loved to be graced by his peacocking presence, so much so that venue owners would reserve balcony seats for him and his two dogs. Shopkeeps even let him pay in his own imperial money.
In 1880, the reign of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, was tragically cut short after only 29 years when the emperor collapsed in the very streets he loved to parade in. And while he may not have died a real emperor, he did die a beloved one. His two funerals were attended by tens of thousands of people. To this day, he is revered by micro-nationalists and libertarians who also dream of one day seceding their backyard and creating an empire of their own.
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