Joshua Abraham Norton, 1819-1880: Emperor Norton
In the history of San Francisco no character has ever stood out more than Joshua Norton. He was born in England and spent most of his life in South Africa. In 1849 he received a large inheritance and sailed for San Francisco with a dream of supplying Peruvian rice to the California Territory. In the years that followed, Norton’s rice venture failed and an unsuccessful lawsuit drove Joshua out of San Francisco and out of his mind. He returned a year later and he had clearly gone insane from the strain of the loss of his business and his holdings.
In 1859, Joshua Norton sent a declaration to several California newspapers which read: “At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of San Francisco, Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States……..”
Norton I, Emperor of the United States
Emperor Norton later added to his title, “Protector of Mexico,” and declared that there would no longer be a need for a legislature. He then abolished Congress as well as the Democrat and Republican parties. He established a fictional Treasury and was in the habit of fining people for various “crimes.” The money was to be used for the construction of a bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. No one ever paid his fines, but in a strange twist the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was completed in 1936 and bears a plaque with his name.
It was widely known in San Francisco the Joshua Norton was mentally ill and penniless. However, Emperor Norton I was well received at restaurants and events around town. Restaurant owners would place brass plaques above the door of their establishment welcoming Emperor Norton. Dressed in a uniform given to him by Army officers from the Presidio and sporting his brass tipped cane, Joshua Norton’s eccentric behavior lasted for twenty-one years with his decrees continuing until he fell dead on California Street in downtown San Francisco on January 8, 1880. He was buried two days later and an estimated 10,000 people attended his funeral.
Independent State of Dade: Dade County, Georgia, 1860-1945
“The Stars and Stripes waved in a gentle breeze today above Dade County Courthouse, last citadel of the Confederacy.”
~Chattanooga Free Press, July 4, 1945
The story of the Independent State of Dade is, without question, a murky one. Some say that the event never actually happened, while others contend that Dade County was indeed an independent nation for 85 years. You decide.
In 1860, the Representative from Dade County, Georgia, Bob Tatum, gave a fiery speech on the floor of the state Capital in which he stated, “By the gods, gentlemen, if Georgia does not vote to secede immediately from the Union, Dade county will secede from the state and become the independent state of Dade.” When Georgia failed to pass a resolution to secede from the Union, Tatum returned to Dade County where, in a public meeting, the citizens of Dade decided to secede from the Union and the state of Georgia. Tatum sent secession proclamations to both the state and to Washington, D.C. and although neither Georgia nor the federal government recognized or even took the proclamations seriously, the citizens of Dade County took their independence seriously.
Dade County’s geographical position in the state added to the confusion of the region’s independence. At the time that Tatum made his proclamations in 1860, Dade County was very isolated. There were no roads that lead to the county from Georgia. To get to the county seat of Trenton, travelers had to leave Georgia into Tennessee then reenter Dade from the north; or leave the state into Alabama and reenter from the south. It would not be until 1940-41, when Highway 136 was constructed, that Dade County was officially connected to the rest of the state. Five years later (July 4th, 1945) the county fathers of the Independent State of Dade declared that they were readmitting themselves into the Union. The event was widely covered in local, state and national newspapers. “Dade County Ends ‘Secession’” was the headline in the New York Times. President Harry Truman dispatched a telegram of congratulations from Washington to the citizens of Dade County which ended with “Welcome home, pilgrims.”
It must be noted here that the U.S. Mint, in its 1999 creation and printing of the Georgia state quarter left the far northwest corner of the state off of the coin. It left out the Independent State of Dade. You decide!
Republic of West Florida: September 1810
A small area of the southern United States bordered by the Mississippi River on the west, the Perdido River on the east, the 31st parallel on the north, and a line from the northern banks of Lake Pontchartrain across to the Gulf of Mexico was known as the Republic of West Florida for a whopping 90 days.
In June of 1810, representatives from the sixteen counties that would become the Republic of West Florida began to meet to discuss their displeasure with the Spanish government’s management of the region. During these meetings, Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Isaac Johnson who commanded the West Florida Dragoons, was elected to create a flag that would properly represent the delegates’ feelings. Because the region was neither a part of the United States nor French Louisiana, and the citizens of the region no longer wanted to be a part of Spanish territory, she decided on a single white star in a field of blue, to represent the desire to stand alone. The flag of the Republic of West Florida would come to be known as the Bonnie Blue Flag and would be used by the Republic of Texas in that territory’s struggle against Spain and later as the unofficial Flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
On September 23, 1810, militia forces of West Florida overran the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge, LA. They raised the flag of the Republic of West Florida and declared their independence from Spain. Representatives met at St. Francisville, the capitol, and created the Constitution of West Florida. They elected legislators and a governor, Fulwar Skipwith. However the life of the Republic would be a short one. One month after the attack on Baton Rouge, President James Madison announced that the newly formed Republic was actually part of the Louisiana Purchase and the region would be annexed into the United States. Initially, Governor Skipwith and the West Florida government were conflicted with the annexation but would eventually realize the economic value in becoming a part of the U.S. In December of 1810, St. Francisville was turned over to the federal government and the Republic of West Florida would fade into history.
The State of Franklin (1784-1788)
The State of Franklin, or the Free Republic of Franklin, was established in 1784 in the far northeastern corner of present-day Tennessee, an area which encompasses approximately twelve counties. Representatives of the region believed that by seceding from North Carolina, they could redirect tax dollars toward improvements to their own communities and expansion of their own economic future. Delegates from Franklin appealed to the federal government to allow for the creation of the 14th state, “Frankland”. The measure failed to pass by only one vote.
The delegates, fearing retribution from the North Carolina legislature, declared secession from the state and established a government by electing legislators, a governor and declaring Jonesboro the capitol. To increase their position against the North Carolina government, representatives from Franklin began to purchase large tracts of land from the Cherokee Indians, however this did not help the position of the Franklinites. North Carolina officials had received reports of increased violence between the Franklinites and Indians. When state of Franklin governor, John Sevier, amassed a militia to attack the home of pro-North Carolina political leader John Tipton, North Carolina militiamen were ordered to Franklin. Following a two day battle between militia troops, the Battle of Franklin, John Sevier was arrested and the State of Franklin was abolished.