title: Emperor Norton Makes a Proclamation
instrumentation: two voices (ranges: A#3 to E5, Eb3 to C5), electronics
duration: 4 minutes
written in: 2010, r. 2016
text: Joshua Abraham Norton

In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton of San Francisco declared himself Emperor of the United States. Despite having no actual political power, he wore a regal uniform, gave speeches, issued decrees, and even printed his own currency. By the end of his life, he had managed to attract enough of a following that when nearly 30,000 people attended his funeral.

Here I’ve written a little synthpop song setting three of his proclamations:

1. “Being desirous of allaying the dissensions of party strife now existing within our realm, I do hereby dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties.” (August 12, 1869)

2. “Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word ‘Frisco,’ which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor.” (1872, possibly apocryphal)

3. “WE do hereby abolish Congress, and it is therefore abolished.” (October 12, 1859)

Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes performed the original version of Emperor Norton Makes a Proclamation on a politically-themed concert shortly before the 2010 midterm elections. The version below is a 2016 revision that I wrote for myself and Kayleigh Butcher.


Kayleigh Butcher and Alex Temple, voices
Live at Galvin Hall, Northwestern University, 5.27.16
Recorded by Dan Nichols

Download mp3