What should I work on next?

19 April 2012

"N" is for...

Emperor of these United States
Protector of Mexico

His Imperial Majesty, in full uniform

The REAL Norton

   Joshua Abraham Norton (c. 1819 – January 8, 1880), the self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco, California, who in 1859 proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" and subsequently "Protector of Mexico."

   Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849. 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.

   Though he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric, the citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, most famously, his "order" that the United States Congress be dissolved by force. On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at a street corner, and died before he could be given medical treatment. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage to Norton.

The VSF Norton

   In at least one VSF-style world, Norton is a serious ruler. Emperor Norton I is the ruler of the Bear Flag Empire (encompassing the modern-day states of California, Oregon, and Washington) in the Castle Falkenstein series of roleplaying games. Originally installed as a figurehead by the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt, he was popularly asked to remain as a beloved monarch after the assassinations of the men that had originally propped him up.

  As a ruler, I could see Norton being the driving force behind a war with Peru (they cheated him on the rice!). Or, the Bear Flag Empire might be the focus of a re-conquest by either Mexico or the United States as they try to re-establish control in the aftermath of an extended Civil War. An intersting imagi-nation, to be sure.

   As an archetype of the sort of ruler a Balkanized North America could prodcue, Norton I is a great example. And besides, he's kind of fun. In real life, people went along with the man's delusions of grandeur because it was fun to do so; why can't we do the same now? Outrageous characters are part of what makes Victorian Science Fiction so much fun, after all. And it doesn't get much more (harmlessly) outrageous than His Imperial Majesty, Norton I.


Michael Awdry said...

Well I never, what a character!

Elderac said...

When I visited San Francisco many years ago, I vaguely remember some talk about an Emperor. After reading today's post, I strongly suspect it was Norton the First.

J Womack, Esq. said...

Had to have been.