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Emperor of the United States

by CLAY OSBORNE

THE United States of America once had an Emperor!

Without bloodshed he achieved the unique distinction of becoming the only monarch ever acknowledged and given fealty by Americans. He remained in his exalted position by the will and acquiescence of a free people.

He violated all rules of representative government by abrogating the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and vesting final authority on domestic and foreign affairs in his own royal person. He issued bonds and paper money. He levied taxes. He dictated to a legislature. A supreme court bowed to his will. He commandeered transportation facilities on land and water. He rewarded public officials by conferring upon them titles of nobility. He decreed punishment — even death! — upon offenders against himself and the State. He rendered judgment on matters brought to his Imperial Court. Yet his right to assume any and all of these powers went unchallenged for more than two decades—despite the election and inauguration of six Chief Executives during the period of his imperial regime!

Our monarch was Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. His capital was San Francisco, California. Leading hotels were his "palaces" during a reign of twenty-three years, from 1857 until his death in 1880. He violated more provisions of our national Constitution than any other man in history—and got away with it!

Within the last five years, citizens of this American democracy obeyed one of the Emperor's most dictatorial commands published nearly seventy years ago, in the newspapers of the royal capital.

"PROCLAMATION!"
"From His Highness NORTON I"

"Whereas, reliable information has
"reached us to the effect that our neigh
"boring sovereign, the Queen of the
"Friendly Islands, is desirous of annex-
ing her domains to the United States,
"and Herself to our Royal Person; and
"whereas, it is our pleasure to acquiesce
"in all means of civilization and popu-
"lation, now therefore we, NORTON
"I, Dei Gratia Emperor of the United
"States and Protector of Mexico, do
"order that a suspension bridge be con-
structed from Oakland Point to Yerba
"Buena Island, thence to the Mountain
"Range of Sausalito and on to the Fa-
"rallones, to be of sufficient size and
"strength for a railroad. Whereof fail
"not under pain of death.

"Given under our hand and seal this
"18th day of August, A.D., 1869, in the
"17th year of Our reign, in Our present
"Capital.

(Signed) NORTON I."

Sixty-six years later the Golden Gate suspension bridge across San Francisco Bay was completed. Although it fails to extend thirty-five miles westward over the Pacific to the Farallones, it does very nearly link the far separated promontories specified for abutments in the pronunciamento. And because in all essential respects this bridge fulfills his decree, we may call it the realization of the Emperor's dream — a fitting monument to America's only acknowledged sovereign!

EMPEROR NORTON'S personal story is an amazing saga of the halcyon days of California's el Dorado. No man of that golden frontier tasted more deeply than he of the flavors of living. His was the complete success of great wealth, a host of friends, a future promising great happiness, and after a certain fateful day, a magnificent failure.

Norton I was not born to the purple. The son of Hebrew parents, born in 1819, he grew to manhood as commoner Joshua A. Norton among the moors and highlands of old Scotland.

Early in life, this Jewish boy felt the pull of his star of destiny. Some strange force seemed to call him across a whole world, compelling him to forsake homelan...

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