Historical anecdote


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Many of you will already know the story of Joshua A. Norton, also known as Emperor Norton I of the United States (and Protector of Mexico). I first read about him in a humorous volume belonging to Kate Dillon, entitled The Unimportance of Being Earnest. It was on this date, in 1859, that he famously ordered the dissolution of the United States Congress.

Norton I was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco who, after supposedly going mad after losing a fortune on rice speculation, decided that the United States needed a monarchy. On September 17, 1859, he appeared in an army uniform and proclaimed:

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 S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; 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 Feb. 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.

In some ways, he was quite far thinking. In 1872, he called for a suspension bridge connecting Oakland to San Francisco, in approximately the site where the Golden Gate Bridge now rests. Indirectly, he may have also helped to inspire the University of British Columbia’s esteemed Afternoon Tea Society.

You have to applaud the people of San Francisco for letting him trade in his own currency, eat for free in the finest restaurants, and otherwise enjoy the trappings of the mantle he so selflessly took upon himself. Much more about him can be found on Wikipedia.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate October 12, 2006 at 8:10 pm

I now have a signed copy of The Unimportance of Being Earnest thanks to Abebooks.com. Also among my highly prized books are Blizzards of Tweed by Glen Baxter and Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir by Graham Roumieu.

Milan October 12, 2006 at 9:43 pm


It’s great to hear from you. I hope we speak soon. Once I deal with this climate change conference tomorrow, perhaps we can schedule a time where the eight hour offset works for each of us.

Milan November 25, 2006 at 8:16 pm

Incidentally, the Standing Order of Summary Acquittal for the Afternoon Tea Society is now on the wiki.

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