What If "Emperor" Norton became President of the USA?
by Alison Brooks
If you don't know "Emperor" Norton, click Here!
In 1876, the US had a fairly close Presidential election between Hayes and Tilden. If we assume that this election proved to be even closer than in OTL, then we can set up a Republican/Democrat deadlock.
Sam Grant's Presidency, in which there were a number of 'kick-back' scandals, was not noted for its decisive and wise selections. Thus we can assume dithering over what to do if the electorate proved incapable of giving a decision between the two leading candidates.
Meanwhile, down in California, a number of wealthy businessmen (with perhaps an eye for development of the Pacific) propose putting up of the compromise candidate of their very own Norton: an inoffensive person who would break the deadlock, and not get in the way of their schemes.
In Washington, the suggestion of Norton is received with polite scepticism. However, California thinks it a Good Idea (one of them as President). It appears to dampen down the North/South distrust, and the bandwagon starts to roll.
The Democrats are adamant that the Republicans shouldn't have the presidency. The Republicans are also adamant that the Democrats shouldn't have it. No-one is able to accuse Norton of belonging to one of the parties, and the compromise candidate accepts the offered position.
His four-year presidency is noted for its good intentions, and today, it is looked back on as a time when Honour was brought back to Politics.
Another WI starring the Emperor!
Born in London in 1819, Joshua Norton built up a fortune in South Africa and San Francisco by dealing in foodstuffs and property. In 1853, he saw his chance to "make it big" by cornering the rice market in San Francisco. Unfortunately, shortly after, several ships laden with rice arrived, glutting the market. Prices tumbled, Norton lost everything and had to file for bankruptcy.
In 1857, he announced to some friends that he was Norton I, Emperor of California. In 1859, he expanded this claim to Emperor of All the United States. He made a proclamation, which the San Francisco Bulletin published without editorial comment.
"At the pre-emptory request and desire of a large majority of the United
States I, Joshua A Norton, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of the US and in
virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the
representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical
Hall, of this city, on the last day of February next, then and there to make
such alteration 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, in our stability and integrity.
At the beginning of his reign, the burning issue was the country's move towards civil war. Norton felt that the US needed a strong head of state, and that the presidency could not achieve this. Reluctantly, he dissolved the Republic, abolished Congress and the Presidency, and announced that, henceforth, he would rule personally.
When the civil war broke out, he summoned both Lincoln and Davis to his presence, and issued a decree ordering hostilities to cease. These orders were as effective as his previous ones, but this did not seem to worry him.
His Imperial Palace was a small room in a lodging house, and the 50 cents-a-night charge was paid by the people of San Francisco. When his wardrobe grew shabby, he issued another decree:
"Know that we, Norton the First, have divers complaints from our liege subjects that our Imperial wardrobe is a national disgrace."
The next day, the city council voted funds for new clothes to be supplied by the city's leading tailors.
Norton's scrip, homemade 25 and 50 cent notes, was accepted as currency; he had free passes to the theatres, and upon his entrance the audience always dutifully rose to its feet.
Once, a river boat captain ordered Norton off his boat for failing to pay a fare. In retaliation, Norton ordered the US navy to blockade the company's vessels. The board of directors quickly gave him an apology and a free lifetime pass.
Norton occasionally went to the State capital at Sacramento, to observe the legislature. Once, the Assembly was deadlocked over a particular appointment. Norton then spoke favourably of both candidates, but suggested they appoint the one he knew personally. The legislators complied with the request.
Robert Louis Stevenson admired the people of San Francisco for looking after this "harmless madman". Norton brought colour to the city and, as a judge remarked when rebuking a policeman who arrested Norton for lunacy, he had:
"Shed no blood, robbed no one, and despoiled no country, which is more than can be said for most fellows in the King line."
Some web sites featuring the Emperor: