ultrafacts: In the mid-1800’s, a man named Joshua Abraham Norton…


In the mid-1800’s, a man named Joshua Abraham Norton proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico and the citizens of San Francisco actually went along with it.

After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton left San Francisco. He returned a few years later, laying claim to the position of Emperor of the United States. Although he had no political power, and his influence extended only so far as he was humored by those around him, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments he frequented.

In 1867, a policeman named Armand Barbier arrested Norton to commit him to involuntary treatment for a mental disorder. The Emperor’s arrest outraged the citizens and sparked scathing editorials in the newspapers. Police Chief Patrick Crowley ordered Norton released and issued a formal apology on behalf of the police force. Crowley wrote “that he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line.” Norton magnanimously granted what he considered an Imperial Pardon to the errant policeman. All police officers of San Francisco thereafter saluted Norton as he passed in the street.

The citizens of San Francisco continued to celebrate his regal presence and his proclamations for many years but on January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at a street corner and died before he could be given medical treatment. At his funeral two days later, tens of thousands of people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage. Norton has been immortalized as the basis of characters in the literature of writers Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Moore, Maurice De Bevere, Selma Lagerlöf, and Neil Gaiman.


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