The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



CHAMBER TALK #3 | The Good Emperor: The Best Proclamations You've Never Heard Of

Proclamation of Emperor Norton,  The Pacific Appeal , 21 November 1874. Source:  California Digital Newspaper Collection .

Proclamation of Emperor Norton, The Pacific Appeal, 21 November 1874. Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.


Much of what we know about Emperor Norton, we know through the record of him as a public character. 

The backbone of this record is the body of the Emperor's newspaper Proclamations. It appears that there were a good few hundred of these. But only a handful are mentioned with any regularity:

  • his original self-declaration;
  • his Proclamations abolishing Congress and the Democratic and Republican Parties;
  • his decrees setting out the vision for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge; and
  • an anti-"Frisco" edict that is of, shall we say, questionable provenance.

Moreover, the most-oft-cited online collections of Proclamations were produced more than 15 to 20 years ago. These collections are useful to a point. But, caveat emptor, one of them focuses on a handful of the earliest Proclamations, while almost entirely ignoring the Proclamations of the Emperor's most prolific period, from early 1871 to mid 1875 (here); the other includes several forgeries and tends to reinforce the stereotype of Emperor Norton as a harrumphing but lovable kook (here).

What is missing from these collections is the Emperor's forward-thinking Proclamations calling for things that were not yet guaranteed by law — for:

  • African-Americans to have the right to attend public schools and ride public street cars;
  • Chinese to have their testimony heard and respected in courts of law; and 
  • Native Americans to be protected from business agents who were exploiting them and thieving their lands.

Did you know that Emperor Norton also wrote Proclamations calling for a public square to be set aside for a farmers' market and for the public to come to the aid of a financially struggling opera house?

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In August 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign received a generous seed grant from the San Francisco History Association to research, write and publish a book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton — a resource that doesn't exist today.

Our goal is to produce a collection of Proclamations that illustrates the full range of the Emperor's concerns. (Learn more about this project here.)

Next up in the Campaign's series of Chamber Talks, we'll preview some of what we've discovered so far. Please join us!

Chamber Talk #3

The Best Proclamations You've Never Heard Of

Tuesday 5 April from 7 to 9 p.m.

The Eric Quezada Center for Culture & Politics
518 Valencia Street (between 16th & 17th)
San Francisco (map)

Wine and snacks

Free to Emissaries of the Empire
(Join online or at the door.)

All others: $10 at the door

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