The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



Campaign Awarded Grant to Publish Book of Norton Proclamations


Typical header of a Proclamation of Emperor Norton published in the Pacific Appeal, the black-owned abolitionist weekly that was the Emperor's "imperial gazette" from 1870 to 1876.


The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is pleased to announce that the nonprofit San Francisco History Association, as part of its Research Gift program, recently awarded the Campaign with a lead grant to develop and publish a book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton.

In the online sphere, there is a variety of compilations of the Emperor's Proclamations. Typically, these are presented simply as lists that include only the text of each decree without the historical context for the decree and that, with rare exception, include no original source information.  

It appears that nearly all of these lists were created before the comparatively recent availability of digital newspapers, a researcher's boon that makes it much easier to search and discover the gamut of the Emperor's Proclamations. As a result, these lists tend to highlight only the most "famous" Proclamations. And this tends to reinforce the caricature of Emperor Norton as something of a harrumphing, autocratic loon  which, predictably, makes him the easy butt of easy jokes.

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What emerges in a careful reading of the larger number of Proclamations that rightly can be attributed to Emperor Norton — especially those published in the Pacific Appeal, the black-owned abolitionist weekly that the Emperor named his "imperial gazette" between 1870 and 1876 — is a more complex, more sympathetic, more "fully human" Emperor who is not so easily dismissed; an Emperor who sought a more fair, more just, more tolerant society that was more inclined to nurturing the common good than the society in which he found himself.

In these Proclamations, one finds a forward-thinking Emperor who, for example:

  • demanded an end to violence and thuggery against the Chinese, and for the right of Chinese to have their testimony heard in courts of law;
  • called for African-Americans to be able to attend public schools and ride public street cars;
  • demanded an end to the exploitation of Native Americans and the theft of their lands;
  • called for fair labor practices; and
  • warned of the dangers of religious sectarianism and of clergy who use their pulpits to push political agendas.

Such was the Emperor's attention to detail that, when he noticed the unsuitability of a narrow street which had been pushed into service for a farmer's market (fruit and vegetable market"), he issued a Proclamation calling for the creation of new public square for the purpose.

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In short, Emperor Norton was an early champion of the spirit of progressivism for which his adopted city of San Francisco and the larger Bay Area became known and celebrated.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign plans to select and publish a book of the Emperor's Proclamations that illustrate the full range of his concerns.

The book is to include full sourcing and a brief historical note for each Proclamation — and, where possible, a photo-scanned image of the Proclamation as it originally appeared in the newspaper that published it.

We also plan to include one or more historical essays about the Emperor, his Proclamations and his world.

Our hope is that, in providing a well-researched and -documented resource that doesn't currently exist within Norton scholarship, this book can become a worthwhile and important contribution with wide appeal — an educational tool that introduces the Emperor to those who don't already know his story, and that enlarges and sharpens the picture of him for those who do.

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The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is grateful to the San Francisco History Association (SFHA) for seeing our vision and for providing the necessary funding leadership to set this vision on a path to becoming reality.

The Campaign will be publishing this book of selected Proclamations on its own imprint. We would like to make it as beautiful as possible: high-quality design, paper, printing and production; possibly in cloth. We also would like to print enough copies to be able to take advantage of the economies of scale that will enable us to offer the book at a reasonable price.

In that spirit, we invite others — foundations, organizations and individuals — who share our vision to help build on the SFHA's generosity by contributing additional funding support.

A listing of all sponsors will be included in the book.

Like to help fund this project? Please click here.

For information on the San Francisco History Association, please click here.

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