So much has been written about Emperor Norton, and interest in this ninteenth-century character continues into the twenty-first century. Many of the “decrees” attributed to Norton I were fakes; written in jest by newspaper editors at the time for amusement, or for political purposes. Those “decrees” listed here were, we believe, actually issued by Norton.
September 17, 1859 – Joshua A. Norton, who lost his money in an attempt to corner the rice market, today declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. December 2, 1859 – Norton I dismissed Gov. Wise of Virginia for hanging John Brown and appointed John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky to replace him.
February 1, 1860 – Decree from Norton I ordered representatives of the different states to assemble at Platt’s Music Hall to change laws to ameloriate the evils under which the country was laboring.
July 16, 1860 – Decree from Norton I dissolved the United States of America.
October 1, 1860 – Decree from Norton I barred Congress from meeting in Washington, D.C.
February 5, 1861– Norton I changed the place of his National Convention to Assembly Hall, Post and Kearny, because Platt’s Music Hall had burned.
September 17, 1861 – A new theater, Tucker’s Hall, opened with a performance of “Norton the First,” or “An Emperor for a Day.”
October 1863 – Death of Lazarus, Emperor Norton’s dog.
February 14, 1864 – Norton I arrived in Marysville to join the celebration of the opening of the railroad.
November 11, 1865 – Mark Twain wrote an epitaph for Bummer, the long-time companion of Lazarus.
January 21, 1867 – An overzealous Patrol Special Officer, Armand Barbier, arrested His Majesty Norton I for involuntary treatment of a mental disorder and thereby created a major civic uproar. Police Chief Patrick Crowley apologized to His Majesty and ordered him released. Several scathing newspaper editorials followed the arrest. All police officers began to salute His Majesty when he passed them on the street.
July 25, 1869 – Decree from Norton I that San Franciscans advance money to Frederick Marriott for his airship experiments.
August 12, 1869 – Decree from Norton I dissolved and abolished the Democratic and Republican parties because of party strife now existing within our realm.
December 15, 1869 – Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, left San Francisco to seek his yearly tribute from the legislature and lobbyists. He inspected the new capitol during the gala ball celebrating the buildings’ inauguration.
December 16, 1869 – Decree by Norton I demanded that Sacramento clean its muddy streets and place gaslights on streets leading to the capitol.
August 1, 1870 – Norton I was listed by the Census taker with the occupation of “emperor,” living at 624 Commercial St.
September 21, 1870 – Decree from Norton I that the Grand Hotel furnish him rooms under penalty of being banished.
Emperor Norton’s grave, which was moved from the Masonic Cemetery in San Francisco to Colma. (Joshua Neff/Flickr)