Emperors of the USA: Norton I and Aaron I

Emperor of the USA: Norton I

Well, the official history paints him as a coo-coo crazy guy, who was a citizen of San Francisco, California. He proclaimed himself "Norton I, Emperor of the United States" in 1859. He later assumed the secondary title of "Protector of Mexico".


Wikipedia continues with the following narrative:
  • Norton was born in England but spent most of his early life in South Africa. He sailed west after the death of his mother in 1846 and his father in 1848, arriving in San Francisco possibly in November 1849.
  • Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice to sell in China due to a Chinese rice shortage. He bought rice at 12 cents per pound from Peruvian ships, but more Peruvian ships arrived in port which caused the price to drop sharply to 4 cents. He then lost a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, and his public prominence faded. He re-emerged in September 1859, laying claim to the position of Emperor of the United States.
  • Though Norton received many favors from the city, merchants also capitalized on his notoriety by selling souvenirs bearing his name. “San Francisco lived off the Emperor Norton,” Norton’s biographer William Drury wrote, “not Norton off San Francisco.”
  • Norton had no formal political power; nevertheless, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments that he frequented. Some considered him insane or eccentric, but citizens of San Francisco celebrated his imperial presence and his proclamations, such as his order that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for the construction of a bridge and tunnel crossing San Francisco Bay to connect San Francisco with Oakland.
  • On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at the corner of California and Dupont (now Grant) streets and died before he could be given medical treatment. Upwards of 10,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco to pay him homage at his funeral.
From above: currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments that he frequented.
  • ...one too many to be a joke, don't you think? That's 5 banknotes below. I'm wondering how many more could be out there.

But then we have a very old article like the one below. The guy sure does sound crazy. Or... is being presented as such.


How much trust can there be allocated to the 19th century press, which produced the following pearls?
Golden Gate Bridge?
The construction of the Golden Gate bridge did not start until 1933. Naturally, this 1939 memorial plaque had to be some good-natured fun. Right?


KD: Essentially, We are being told that this Emperor Norton the First was just a local clown adorned by everybody in the 19th century San Francisco.
  • But... was he some eccentric dude, or was he a real Emperor being portrayed as a clown?

Info and Links:

Emperor of the USA: Aaron I
Instances like the one above sure do appear funny, up to the point where we have another Emperor of the United States. In history, Aaron Burr is known as an "Outlaw Emperor", as well as the third Vice President of the United States. The story is not without a conspiracy of its own.


Anyways, I think this is something to be looked into. When the Vice President of the United States is being charged with treason for assembling an armed force to take New Orleans and separate the Western from the Atlantic states... there has to be something there. At least it's my opinion at this point. So far we have a blanket historical opinion:
Very interesting! This plaque is cool too, this date has been severely messed with-it’s so obvious it’s been altered. What date do you think was originally listed there?

August 18 looks about right but the 1869 is all over the place. Especially the 1,6, and 9
I think the 6 is standing out the most. The 9 seems at least similar to the 9 that's a bit higher, next to "Mexico".

But then again, the 9 in 1939 at the bottom is quite different from the rest too.
That man is giving off a strong Castro vibe.

I know nothing of Norton, nor have I even heard of him before. What I find curious is the contradiction between the evidence remaining and the presentation of the evidence remaining. A cursory internet search reminds me of any other: a thick layer of one narrative which must be delved into to reveal another.

There is an emperor Norton trust website which confuses me entirely. AtlasObscura gives this interesting take:

ONCE A WEALTHY SAN FRANCISCO businessman and landowner, Joshua Norton lost his fortune speculating on rice prices in the 1850s and descended into a gloomy and destitute self-exile for several years. Then on September 17, 1859, he publicly declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States, and later, Protector of Mexico. Encouraged by the local newspapers, he issued numerous public decrees on matters of public policy and later issued his own currency, which was widely accepted in San Francisco.

The army furnished him with a uniform befitting his status as Emperor, the local theaters provided him with seats on opening night. Meanwhile, he wandered the city streets, visited local clubs, and slept in a flophouse. In the 1870 national census, Norton’s occupation is officially listed as ‘emperor’. On the same census, it is noted that he does not have the right to vote. In that column, the reason is entered as ‘insane’.
After ruminating on that (amongst others) explanation… perhaps we’re just in a different time? There’s no more “village idiot” or “town drunk” these days, at least not in major metropolitan areas. San Fran seemed pretty major metropolitan even then though, and I feel it would be hard to gain notoriety in that fashion.

I’ve crossed paths with numerous hobos, crazies, drunks, etc in my lifetime in Seattle. Not one of which I’d consider participating in their delusions, let alone using their currency. I have great difficulty imagining the military, government, or media entertaining one either. 🤔