"I Will Hold That Flag"
At our recent talk on Emperor Norton's lesser-known Proclamations, we reviewed a number of decrees in which the Emperor warned of the dangers of religious sectarianism and expressed his preference for the creation of a universal religion.
Laying the available evidence on the table, it appears that what Emperor Norton had in mind was a religion that would bring together Christianity, Judaism and Unitarianism.
On weekends, the Emperor practiced what he preached, attending synagogue on Saturdays, at Temple Emanu-El, and rotating his Sunday patronage amongst a number of Christian and Unitarian churches — often preferring the Unitarian pulpits, where he could hear staunch defenses of the separation of church and state.
He felt it his duty as Emperor to visit a variety of congregations and, in so doing, to maintain a certain impartiality to any particular faith.
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In politics, as in religion, Emperor Norton was, one could say, an ecumenist.
Like George Washington, the Emperor was wary of political parties. Too easily coopted, he thought, for corrupt purposes that were at odds with the common good an observation that led him to call for the abolition of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties.
He even maintained political neutrality in his mode of dress.
Emperor Norton generally wore second-hand military uniforms that were given to him by the Presidio or acquired "on the cheap" from local auction houses.
During the Civil War, he is said to have alternated between blue and gray.
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But here, too, the Emperor left no doubt that he was an unabashed "union man."
On 21 February 1861, the front page of the Daily Alta California newspaper carried an article detailing the proceedings of a meeting — the afternoon before — to lay plans for a big pro-Union rally in San Francisco.
Despite the short notice, it was agreed that the most appropriate date for the rally was 22 February — George Washington's birthday. The rally was held at the intersection of Montgomery, Post and Market Streets.
Note this passage from the article:
Mr. E.H. Washburn thought that the 22d Feb. would be the most appropriate day, and that there would be no difficulty in getting earnest speakers. All that was necessary was a Committee to draft strong resolutions. No great preparations would be necessary. The principal thing was to get the people together, make speeches, set up the star spangled banner, and give one great shout for the Union. (Applause)
The individual who desires to be styled the "Emperor Norton I," here pressed forward and exclaimed: "I will hold that flag." (Laughter.)
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"I will hold that flag." Followed by the parenthetical editorial comment "(Laughter.)".
No doubt, Emperor Norton failed to see what was so funny about his statement.
No doubt, too, that Norton I is among those with a prime viewing spot in this photograph of the rally that took place — as planned — on 22 February 1861.
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