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The Insane Saga of Joshua Abraham Norton, The 'Emperor' of the United States

Updated 13 Oct 2018 9.6k views14 items

The United States of America proudly declared its independence from monarchal rule - but the country has had one notable weird royal. Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. Believe it or not, his story only gets more intriguing from there.

Norton was an unlikely candidate for American rule. He was born in England in 1818 and grew up in South Africa, and only came to the United States after the deaths of his parents in the 1840s. He enjoyed a few prosperous years as a businessman in San Francisco, but then his fortunes took an unexpected turn for the worse. After a protracted legal battle and a declaration of bankruptcy, Norton was angry enough with the American political system to declare himself emperor.

Emperor Norton is known as America's only emperor, even though he had no actual powers, despite attempting to disband Congress and fire the Governor of Virginia. In reality, Norton was merely Emperor of San Francisco; the residents of his adopted hometown humored him to the point of accepting his worthless currency and saluting to him as they passed him on the street. Norton enjoyed his legendary status until his death in 1880, and popular culture continues to celebrate this eccentric figure.

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