Harriet Meets Hamilton as Treasury Transforms the Twenty

Kamya Sanjay, Staff Writer

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Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill.

Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill.

Harriet Tubman, famous for her work as Union spy and the conductor of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. The Founding Father’s face, on the other hand, will be relegated to a small space on the back of the note alongside a miniature White House.

The campaign that inspired this change will surely go down in history – Harriet’s head is the product of a rather impassioned discussion regarding the importance of representation in every facet of American government, including currency. Online, the abolitionist’s staunch supporters have pointed out that it has been a century since there was a woman on paper currency (Martha Washington had a brief stint in the late 19th century). An online group called “Women on 20s” began to petition for change, calling for representation on the front of the commonly issued $20 bill. Additionally, Jackson had been under recent public scrutiny due to revisionist remarks regarding his slaveholder status, support for relocation of Native Americans, and opposition to a national banking system and paper currency. Due to counterfeiting threats, however, the $10 bill was ready for a renewal and it seemed logical for federal officials to revamp it instead — a way of killing two birds with one stone.

Women all over the Internet were at odds. Within the system, Rosie Rios, current Treasurer of the United States, voiced her support for a woman’s face on the $10 bill. Online syndicate leaders’ networking organization, Girls’ Lounge, approved of a change of the $10 as rather than the $20, claiming it would be a faster and easier transition. Opposing this sentiment, many women online felt as if a woman’s face on the $10, a bill that is in fact issued far less than the $20, was representative of society’s view regarding importance of the female and demanded immediate reform. The debate seemed to go on without end, and at first, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew revealed plans to modify the current $10 bill and replace the image of Alexander Hamilton with Susan B. Anthony, everyone’s favourite suffragist. This sparked yet another problem, however, because then Hamilton entered the Broadway scene.

Painted with different hues in the 2015 Broadway interpretation of his life, Alexander Hamilton now claims a musical in his name by Puerto Rican composer, lyricist, and rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical developed an enormous fan following and received acclaim for its portrayal of predominately white historical figures by black and Hispanic actors and actresses. It also won a Grammy for “Best Musical Theater Album” and the Pulitzer Prize for Theater. When Lew suggested removal of Hamilton rather than suspension of Jackson, social media went berserk. Again.

It seemed that to many people, who had rebranded Hamilton in their minds as a revolutionary brand of subversive populist, the removal of a new pop culture icon would be shameful. In a publication for the Brooking’s Institution, Ben Bernanke wrote that he found Lew’s then-decision to drop Hamilton “appalling” and endorsed institution of a woman’s face on the $20. Alarm was raised and then dispelled when the public was made aware that Lew had attended a performance of Hamilton on Broadway and hinted to Miranda that Hamilton would remain on the $10 note.

As the clamor online grew louder and thousands of petitions and suggestions stacked on his desk, Lew finally came to a compromise. He suggested changes to be made on three bills ($5, $10, and $20) to reflect the views of all stakeholders in the great cash debate. Lew proposed a vignette of famous suffragists on the back of the $10, which would keep Alexander Hamilton. He also encouraged that the $5 bill undergo a minor makeover to fit the new theme of inclusion. Of course, the piece-de-resistance of the new transformations will be Harriet Tubman’s new role as the face of the $20 bill.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing estimates that America’s collective wallet will be filled with Tubman twenties by 2020.

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