His Excellency Norton 1

The self-proclaimed Norton 1, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, was a colorful citizen of San Francisco from Gold Rush days through the 1880s. His Excellency, whose real name was Joshua Abraham Norton, arrived in San Francisco in 1849 with substantial funds from his father’s estate. He was successful in the real estate market until he lost his fortune over an ill-timed investment in Peruvian rice. Norton and the Peruvian dealers were involved in protracted litigation until 1857, when the California Supreme Court ruled against Norton, and the bank foreclosed on his real estate holdings. Norton’s mental state was severely affected by these setbacks, and he left the city for two years. When he returned, possibly insane, short on funds and certainly eccentric, he declared himself Emperor, commencing his whimsical 21 year reign over America to right, as he saw them, the inadequacies of the legal and political structures of the United States. One of his more famous proclamations was that Congress should be dissolved by force.  Treated deferentially in San Francisco and elsewhere, his signature alone was accepted as payment in the dining and entertainment establishments he frequented.  When he died January 8, 1880, possibly aged 65 although his birth date remains unconfirmed, 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage.


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