Treasury Devalues Tubman and Hamilton

The+Women+on+20s+group+has+petitioned+for+a+female+leader+to+replace+Jackson+on+the+%2420+bill.
The Women on 20s group has petitioned for a female leader to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.

The Women on 20s group has petitioned for a female leader to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.

The Women on 20s group has petitioned for a female leader to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.

Parth Kotak, Opinion Editor

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In March of 2015, the public banded together and began a movement to replace one of the existing Founders’ portraits on the obverse of United States’ currency with the face of an important female leader. The goal was to represent changing social and political norms in the country, provide a role model for young women to look up to, and celebrate the female gender. The prevailing sentiment called for a woman to be placed on the $20 bill, which Andrew Jackson currently occupies. The movement, Women on 20s, pointed out that a president with a vicious loathing of financial institutions and paper currency in favor of specie, as well as a problematic record with Native Americans and African Americans, should not be honored on the $20 bill. Jackson owned about 150 slaves himself and specifically disobeyed the Supreme Court’s verdict in Worcester v. Georgia in order to displace the Cherokees on the infamous Trail of Tears. Women on 20s reasoned Jackson would be the perfect choice to be replaced — poetic social justice, if you will. Nearly 600,000 people responded to womenon20s.org’s poll asking for a suggestion for the woman who would grace the $20 bill; finally, the people decided on Harriet Tubman, leader of the Underground Railroad. The stage seemed set. Petitions began, calling for Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson.

Lew managed to please almost no one and offend many.”

That’s why Jack Lew’s decision last June surprised so many. Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury, planned a woman (later decided to indeed be Tubman) to replace a man on a bill; however, it was the choice of the bill that shocked people. Rather than choose the $20, Lew chose the $10 — home to beloved Founding Father and architect of the modern US financial system Alexander Hamilton. He chose the lesser denomination because that bill was due for redesign and update in security features anyway. Backlash against Lew’s decision manifested itself instantly in angry Tweets and continues to manifest itself. This leap day, February 29, 2016, Women on 20s is organizing a campaign with the hashtags #TheNew10, #TheNew20, and #DitchJackson in response to Lew’s decision; I would encourage those passionate about this topic to chime in. The $10 bill is viewed widely as a bill of lesser importance; it is only circulated one-fourth as widely as the $20, and its average lifespan is 3.4 years fewer than the $20 bill. The social justice aspect must also be taken into account. Hamilton worked closely with John Jay’s New York Manumission Society in 1785 and believed that Native Americans were equal to whites; he also engineered the First National Bank, the precursor to the Federal Reserve System, and he pushed for a unified currency. In response to the backlash, Lew further amended that he would leave Hamilton, in some shape or form, on the $10 bill, further angering those who imagined that Tubman would get her own bill. As one columnist succinctly put it, “Lew managed to please almost no one and offend many.”

Personally, I believe Jackson should remain on our currency. Yes, he was notoriously against large banks, likening the Second Bank of the United States to a monster, and he was skeptical of paper currency, but these ideas are not entirely without merit. One Jackson historian describes the firebrand, populist speeches of liberal icon Elizabeth Warren as nearly word-for-word Andrew Jackson’s. His caution regarding the intrinsic value of currency is an important lesson to learn; money is only as strong as the public’s faith in it. Indeed he did singlehandedly concoct the plot to deport thousands of Native Americans from our land. But we should look at our continued usage of Jackson on the currency as acceptance of our flawed past and refusal to whitewash history based on current social trends. In 1928, when his portrait was first chosen for the $20, Jackson was widely regarded as the hero of the common man, admired by FDR and other liberals.

As a compromise between the two factions, I would suggest either assigning Tubman the $50 and removing Grant, or splitting the $20 between Jackson and Tubman (i.e., creating two versions of the bill), with the intent to create a male and female version of each denomination as qualified female candidates are suggested and accepted.

Our continued usage of Jackson on the currency is an acceptance of our flawed past and refusal to whitewash history based on current social trends.”

 

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