Emperor Norton the First
Originally scheduled for December 14
On September 17, 1859 various newspapers in the
city of San Francisco received the announcement that, by popular
demand, one Joshua Norton was proclaiming himself to be Emperor
Norton the First, Dictator of North America. Many of the newspapers
reprinted the letter in the form of a formal announcement. Norton
was indeed a lunatic quite out of touch with reality. Perhaps it was
that which explains his appeal to the city of San Francisco.
San Francisco took him to heart, and humored
him on all occasions. Restaurants wanted to be known as an
establishment where the Emperor frequently dined; theaters always
reserved a box for the Emperor on opening night. On one occasion a
policeman, who evidently had a defective sense of humor, arrested
Norton to commit him to an insane asylum. The city was outraged;
editorials proclaiming themselves scandalized by such conduct
appeared in all the papers. The incident was ended when the chief of
police released Emperor Norton and issued a formal apology to him.
In response, Emperor Norton magnanimously pardoned the policeman who
had arrested him. The chief of police then ordered all members of
the police force to salute the Emperor whenever they encountered
A harmless lunatic, he amused the people of San
Francisco. It goes without saying that they never took him seriously
as an Emperor; they participated in this harmless fraud because it
amused them. He had no right to expect any more than that; after
all, what had he ever done for them( besides amuse them)? Since he
had done nothing for them, they quite rightly felt that they need do
nothing for him. Humor is not a great source of authority.
So why did they go along with the gag? It was a
harmless amusement, and — note this — Norton never asked them to
change. There was no sense of commitment or authority about Emperor
Norton the First. If the authority ruling over you has never done
anything for you, it’s difficult for you to do anything for them.
By contrast, Christ does indeed ask for change
— indeed, a total and complete change in your life. He asks you to
change, and then he changes you. It is simply an echo of his
statement, “all authority has been given to me…”. It is logical
therefore to ask, “what that Christ ever do for me?” If he demands
something of me, he must’ve done something for me. And he did; he
did it at the Cross. He atoned for your sins by his death on the
So what does he ask of you in return, here at
He asks you to contemplate your life,
He asks you to repent of those sins.
He asks you to partake in memory of
the sacrifice he made for you.
Then he asks you to change — first to change
yourself, then to change the world.