Dear Readers: Since my first post today seems to be redirecting to an interesting website, I decided to chime in on a second Obama-related topic. If I disappear on the next leg of my American Exceptionalism tour, just support my secession movement in California in memorium (thanks Left Coat Rebel).
On my tour of the East Coast, I have been listening to podcasts entitled STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS. It has been exceptionally interesting. One gem featured Emperor Norton I, whose base was San Francisco. This confirms my theory that San Francisco has been a lunatic asylum since its inception, and allows me the opportunity to share a tidbit of history with my Shrine Friends.
Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849 after receiving a bequest of $40,000 from his father’s estate. Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice.
After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton left San Francisco. He returned a few years later, apparently mentally unbalanced, claiming to be the 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.
Environmentalgraffiti.com has a great round-up on this quaint character: Norton I: America’s Unsung Emperor
….in 1859 he impressed the editor at the San Francisco Bulletin with a document that many would have laughed at.
Next morning, breakfast readers of the paper were amazed to see the following: “At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton… declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me invested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different states of the Union to assemble… To make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is labouring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, both in our stability and our integrity.”
He took the grassroots approach that has been so effective for our own Tea Party efforts. Norton I personally inspected sewage systems and drainage ditches. He conferred with the local police force on crime rates. Norton I was the first to make the suggestion of a bridge placement that ultimately became the SF Bay Bridge (which was once proposed to be named after the Emperor). Norton I became a very beloved figure in the city, because of his hands-on approach. Compare this to the current emperor’s golf-based governing style!!!!
Norton I had several innovative ideas, some of which seem to be appealing today. In one of his first acts, he abolished both the Democratic and Republican parties (an idea that we may want to revisit). He abolished the Presidency and dissolved Congress. Norton I also issued his own currency (which may actually be worth more than the current one, given the speed in which today’s administration is printing money).
Because he showed “his subjects” such respect and was mindful of their concerns, he was treated like royalty:
He usually ate at fashionable restaurants, but was never asked to pay. Plaques proclaiming his patronage were on show all over, and he used public transport free of charge. Theatres would reserve three free seats for him and his two dogs, knowing that his entrance would bring the audience respectfully to its feet. Newspapers happily published his ‘royal decrees’, and when his outfit became too shabby, the best tailors fought for the privilege of making a replacement, at city expense! Norton elevated all city officials to the nobility, as a thank you gesture.
Mark Twain used Norton I as the basis for his character, “The King”, in Huckleberry Finn. Over 30,000 locals lined up to watch Norton I’s funeral procession. His tombstone reads:
Compare and contrast the leadership style between Emperor Norton and the current occupant of the White House! I think Norton leaves Obama in a very distant second place.