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Trump Administration Scrapping Plan To Put Harriet Tubman On $20 Bill?

Harriet Tubman Twenty Dollar Bill

Three years ago, reports began to circulate that the Obama Treasury Department was considering redesigning American currency by placing a woman on the $10 bill in place of Alexander Hamilton, the First Treasury Secretary who had also served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution. Thanks in no small part to the popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, the plan to replace Hamilton was scrapped and it was announced that the abolitionist and founder of the Underground Railroad that led escaped slaves to freedom in the 19th Century would replace former Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Now, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is throwing cold water on that idea, although it’s unclear if it is being abandoned entirely:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration signaled on Thursday that the black abolitionist Harriet Tubman may not replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill after all.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to endorse the plan for a 2020 redesign of the $20 bill that was announced by the Obama administration last year.

“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mr. Mnuchin told CNBC. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”

President Trump, who has described himself as a “big fan” of the populist rabble-rousing president from Tennessee, made clear as a candidate that he didn’t like the proposal to replace Jackson.

“I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination,” he said in April 2016, after the decision was announced.

At the time, Mr. Trump mentioned the $2 bill for Tubman. It circulates in the smallest volume of any bill, about seven times less than the $20. “I think it would be more appropriate,” he said.

Mr. Trump has not addressed the issue since becoming president, but he traveled to Tennessee in March to celebrate Jackson’s 250th birthday. His visit included laying a wreath at the former president’s tomb at The Hermitage, the plantation where Jackson kept more than 100 slaves. Mr. Trump described Jackson’s presidency as a model for his own, portraying Jackson as a populist hero who had fought against government corruption.

“That sounds very familiar,” Mr. Trump said in brief remarks from the plantation’s portico. “Wait till you see what’s going to be happening pretty soon, folks.”

Mr. Trump also put a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office.

The Obama administration initially announced that it wanted to put a woman on the $10 bill, but a public outcry against the replacement of Alexander Hamilton, the incumbent frontman, prompted a change in plans. In April 2016, then-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that Jackson would move to the back of the $20 bill. He also said that images of women would be added to the back of the $5 and $10 bills.

Mr. Lew said final designs would be unveiled in 2020, with production starting later in the decade. The government regularly redesigns paper currency to frustrate counterfeiters, but the people honored on the bills have remained the same for nearly a century. Other nations, notably Britain, regularly rotate honorees, though Queen Elizabeth II remains on all the bills.

Mr. Lew was aware when he made the decision to redesign the currency that its fate would rest with Mr. Obama’s successor. But he said then that he doubted it would be reversed.

“I don’t think somebody’s going to probably want to do that — to take the image of Harriet Tubman off of our money? To take the image of the suffragists off?” he said.

Treasury had earlier removed its “Modern Money” website that the Obama administration created to highlight its plans for the redesigned bills.

Apparently, no final decision has been made on this issue and the process that former Treasury Secretary Lew announced last year was still in its early stages, so canceling the planned changes probably wouldn’t cost the government anything at all. At the same time, though, it seems like an inappropriate decision to me. There hasn’t been a woman on American currency since the 19th Century, and it’s been nearly a century since American currency was redesigned to the form that we’re familiar with today. As a result, there was a push by women’s groups to get a woman on at least one denomination by 2020 to make the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote nationwide. If Mnuchin delays the plan the was announced last year, it would likely delay any change to the point where that 2020 goal would not be met.

As it stands, of course, replacing Jackson with Tubman would be not only appropriate, but in some sense a measure of justice. Unlike Hamilton, whose place on the $10 bill is apparently secure, there is very little about Andrew Jackson that is admirable. In addition to being a slaveholder, Jackson was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Native Americans forced from their ancestral lands on a forced migration to what is now Oklahoma on the appropriately name “Trail of Tears.” He defied Supreme Court orders, including orders directly related to his treatment of Native Americans while President. Additionally, Jackson’s position on the Second Bank of the United States was a large reason behind the Panic of 1837, which sent the nation into one of the most prolonged economic downturns in its history that in many respects was worse than the Great Depression.  Tubman, on the other hand, stood against pretty much everything that Jackson stood for, and was a genuine hero to anyone who respects what America really stands for. If any woman deserves to be honored in this manner, she does, and it would be especially appropriate for her to replace someone like Jackson.

Unfortunately, we’ve got a President who seems to admire Jackson for some reason, and that may be enough to keep him on the $20 bill even though he doesn’t really belong there.

Update: From The Onion: Trump Administration Announces New $20 Bill Design Honoring Harriet Tubman’s Owners

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) I’m beginning to sympathize with Nate Silver’s view that “white identity politics” is the most predictive theory for Trump’s actions.

    2) This sounds an awful lot like Trump opposing something just because Obama liked it. I swear, if Obama came up with the cure for cancer, Trump would try to outlaw it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 2

  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Yeah…a racist President was ever going to allow a woman of color on a $20…sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Personally I’d prefer Robert Johnson over Tubman because I’d like us to move away from venerating pols and do as the Euros do and offer a currency shout out to great cultural and scientific figures. Harriett Tubman was a brave, resourceful woman deserving of praise, but Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the Blues and subsequent musical genres.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Not to denigrate Johnson’s accomplishments, which were considerable, but Tubman was a true heroine. And…we should have a woman on one of our bills.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  5. Kylopod says:

    Can someone remind me why Jackson is still widely regarded as a great president? It seems that almost every major thing he did as president is almost universally seen as terrible today. I guess if Herbert Hoover were a racist mass murderer, it would greatly enhance his reputation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    How is Harriet Tubman a politician?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @Kylopod:
    Not only that, the Jackson despised the banking system of the United States, yet for some reason we put him on the $20 bill.

    Frankly, I’d rather have Harriet Tubman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Dick Gregory on the $20 bill than Andrew Jackson.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Why not put Donnies hairline on the bill?
    https://assets.rbl.ms/6609271/980x.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. Kylopod says:

    @ChrisG:

    Instead of putting Tubman in the $20, why not put Clarence Thomas on the $5 bill instead?

    1. You can’t put a living person on currency, dumbass.

    2. If you’re going to go full Confederate on us, why not recommend Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or John Wilkes Booth? You gotta have the courage of your convictions, dude.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  10. James Pearce says:

    @CSK:

    but Tubman was a true heroine. And…we should have a woman on one of our bills.

    I’m not opposed to a woman being on our bills, but why must it be a woman, and why must it be a “real” heroine?

    My pick: Rosie the Riverter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  11. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Oops, yeah, I gave Reynolds the upvote before you made me realize that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @ChrisG:
    Nice confederate flag. It’s important to recognize losers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  13. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:

    Because we don’t have a woman, and perhaps we should.

    But I’m open to other figures of cultural importance. We have many from whom to choose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @ChrisG:
    Exactly what I’d expect from an aszhole flying the colors of treason and racism. In your tiny mind all black people are fungible, interchangeable, so a black man whose only contribution was to say, “Yep,” every time Scalia opened his mouth, is the equal of men and women of truly heroic accomplishment.

    I expect if you don’t change your avatar you’ll be banned from the site. No one here, left, right or center, is interested in the opinions of a white supremacist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  15. t says:

    Sojourner Truth is another one that should be considered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. CSK says:

    @ChrisG:

    Apparently you think Michelle Obama is a man. Would you care to divulge why? Because she’s tall? So are Ivanka and Melania.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    so a black man whose only contribution was to say, “Yep,” every time Scalia opened his mouth, is the equal of men and women of truly heroic accomplishment

    Not to side with confed boy up there, but this is a trope I’m awfully tired of. The Thomas-Scalia pairing on opinions wasn’t even the most common on the recent court (that would be Kagan-Ginsburg according to the NYT). Thomas wrote some blistering and critical dissents from Scalia (e.g., Raich). Toobin wrote a really good article a few years ago arguing that Thomas was leading Scalia as much as Scalia was leading Thomas and reshaping SCOTUS thinking on critical issues. Disagree with Thomas if you must, but the idea that he was Scalia’s puppet is condescending gibberish.

    But no, he doesn’t belong on money. Apart from the issue of him being alive, Tubman is a much more important and less divisive figure in American history. And if we were going to put a SCOTUS judge on our currency, it should probably be someone like Marshall (John or Thurgood).

    EDIT to ADD: If you any doubts about whether Tubman should be on our money, read dup on her raid at Combahee Ferry. Woman was a big damned war hero.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  18. Joe says:

    ChrisG notwithstanding, I think this discussion about who it should be is interesting, but over. We had this conversation a few years ago and, even though there are plenty of deserving people or even icons (Rosie), we (or at least the sitting Administration) made a decision. The issue here is the amount of time and energy this administration spends on unwinding what the prior administration did for no articulatable policy goal than it was the prior administration that did it. The other issue is that we will continue on into the ’20s with nothing but dead white men on our currency. Those are both sub optimal outcomes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  19. Hal_10000 says:

    @ChrisG:

    Go away, troll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  20. James Pearce says:

    @CSK:

    Because we don’t have a woman, and perhaps we should.

    That’s not actually a good reason, though. Everyone on the bills are associated in some form or another with the US government, most likely a president, but maybe a founder. They’re thematically linked. It’s not just random white dudes.

    Maybe we should stick with the theme, or change not just one portrait, but the theme itself.

    @ChrisG:

    No more dead white males…enough is enough!

    Look, I get your point, but I’m also not surprised that my fellow commenters think you’re coming at it from a racist point of view.

    (Sorry, but the rebel flag makes me want to puke.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: @James Pearce: @Hal_10000: @CSK: Not sure where Chris G came from but I marked him comments as spam, so you now appear to be talking to yourselves. Sorry!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  22. James Pearce says:

    @James Joyner: James, I don’t think anyone will mind…at all. Thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Tyrell says:

    I think they should have a variety of leaders and personalities for us to choose from when we visit the banks: Jackson, Tubman, Ford, Edison, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shephard, Ruth, Gehrig, Michael Jordan, Payton Manning, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor. Maybe you can name some more.
    It would increase interest in currency and collecting

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Hal_10000 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Not sure where Chris G came from but I marked him comments as spam, so you now appear to be talking to yourselves.

    Meh. I’m always talking to myself. 😉

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Scott says:

    @Tyrell: I’m with you. I see no reason a denomination can’t have several runs of different historical figures.

    As for replacing the Tubman plan, it is just a reminder that Trump and his minions are driven by spite and resentment.

    I was going to say, “What a way to run an airline” but then it seems that airlines are run by people driven by spite and resentment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  26. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Scott: The only argument that I can see against multiple versions of money is that it might make it more easy to counterfeit with less effort. If virtually anybody might appear on money–which seems to be the direction Tyrell is going–anybody with a laser printer and a broad color palate could become a manufacturer of currency. How would anybody know, especially if we moved to the acrylic films some countries are using?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Monala says:

    @CSK: There was a contest a few years ago, “20 for the 20” that identified 20 women to possibly replace Jackson on the twenty. People all over the country had the opportunity to vote. Turman won.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Monala says:

    *Tubman* won.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  29. Tyrell says:

    @t: Who is Sojourner Truth? Not very well known.
    I would favor George Washington Carved and Booker T. Washington. These are well known black leaders who helped all the southern area.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0