Harriet Tubman To Replace Andrew Jackson On $20 Bill
Woman who liberated slaves to replace slaveholding President who presided over Native American genocide on American currency.
Harriet Tubman will be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill:
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday announced the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century, proposing to replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, and to add women and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 notes.
Mr. Lew may have reneged on a 10-month-old commitment to make a woman the face of the $10 bill, opting instead to keep Alexander Hamilton, to the delight of a fan base swollen with enthusiasm over a Broadway rap musical sharing the last name of the first Treasury secretary.
But the broader remake of the nation’s paper currency may well have captured a historical moment for a multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial nation moving contentiously through the early years of a new century.
Tubman, an African-American and a spy for the Union, would bump Jackson — a white man known as much for his persecution of Native Americans as for his war heroics and advocacy for the common man — to the rear of the $20, in some reduced image. Tubman would be the first woman so honored on paper currency since Martha Washington’s portrait briefly graced the $1 silver certificate in the late 19th century.
While Hamilton would remain on the $10, and Abraham Lincoln on the $5s, images of women would be added to the back of both — in keeping with Mr. Lew’s intent “to bring to life” the national monuments depicted there.
The picture of the Treasury building on the back of the $10 bill would be replaced with a depiction of a 1913 march in support of women’s right to vote that ended at the building, along with portraits of five suffrage leaders: Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony, who in recent years was on an unpopular $1 coin until minting ceased.
On the flip side of the $5 bill, the Lincoln Memorial would remain but as the backdrop for the 1939 performance there of Marian Anderson, the African-American opera star, after she was barred from singing in the segregated Constitution Hall nearby. Sharing space on the rear would be images of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady who arranged Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance, and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1963 delivered his “I have a dream” speech from its steps.
The final redesigns will be unveiled in 2020, the centennial of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s suffrage, and will not go into wide circulation until later in the decade, starting with the new $10 note. The unexpectedly ambitious proposals reflect Mr. Lew’s tortuous attempt to expedite the process and win over critics who have lodged conflicting demands, pitting mainly women’s advocates against Hamiltonians newly empowered by the unlikely success of their hero’s story on Broadway.
Mr. Lew’s design proposals are the culmination of 10 months of often-heated public commentary that began almost immediately after he invited Americans last June to help him decide what woman from history to honor on the $10 bill. That feel-good initiative proved to be hardly as simple as he first imagined.
But nothing so roiled the debate as the phenomenon of the musical “Hamilton.”
Weighing in for his place on the $10 bill were well-to-do theater patrons and teenagers rapping to the soundtrack, as well as the show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. When Mr. Lew and his wife caught a performance last August, the Treasury secretary hinted to Mr. Miranda that Hamilton would stay. Just this week, the show won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
By July, in fact, Mr. Lew already had decided to keep his long-ago predecessor on the $10 note, and put a vignette of suffragists on the back, with Tubman scheduled for the $20 bill and changes to the $5 note as well.
“I had a kind of ‘aha’ moment where I said we’re thinking too small,” Mr. Lew said on Wednesday.
He decided to redesign all three bank notes to accommodate the various views, and sooner. As for the choice of Tubman, he said that in the public comments he reviewed each night, “the pattern became clear that Harriet Tubman struck a chord with people in all parts of the country, of all ages.”
“This is a good solution,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who wrote to the secretary “strongly suggesting he not remove Hamilton” from the bill.
Mr. Lew directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to hasten the redesign of the $20 and $5 notes, contemporaneously with the $10 bill. Subsequent production of the $10 bill would take precedence, though Mr. Lew said all three notes could be in wallets before 2030. The final decision on release is up to the Fed.
One wild card is that Mr. Lew and President Obama have just months left in office. But Mr. Lew expressed confidence that his successors will not veto the currency makeovers.
“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.
Not since 1929 has American currency undergone such a far-reaching change. That year all paper money changed, with more standard designs and smaller size to save costs.
When it was first announced a year ago that Lew was soliciting suggestions for a woman to put on one of the pieces of American currency being redesigned over the next decade, the idea of replacing Jackson with Harriet Tubman is one that seemed to have widespread approval. Partly this seemed to be because nobody was quite sure why Jackson had ended up on the most widely circulated denomination of currency to begin with. According to some reports, the decision was essentially one made by one bureaucrat at the Treasury Department back when currency was last being redesigned. That story may be true, or it may be apocryphal because nobody wanted to take responsibility for putting someone with a checkered record to say the least such as Jackson, a slave owner who was also responsible for horrible mistreatment of the Cherokee and other Native American tribes on the Trail of Tears. Tubman, on the other hand, was an escaped slave who spent the years prior to the Civil War putting her own life at risk to help other African-Americans to escape to freedom in the North and, in some cases, Canada. To the extent the morality of a life i relevant to how much honor someone deserves, there’s clearly no comparison between Jackson and Tubman. As for the remainder of the proposed changes to the $5 and $10 bill’s, I’ll have to wait and see the proposed designs. As described, though, they seem acceptable.
The ironic thing about all of this is that one wonders how much anyone is really going to notice these changes. We are increasingly becoming a cashless society, or at least one in which cash is used far less than it was in the past. By the time these new bill start circulating more than ten years from now, those changes are likely to become even more widespread in the coming years. Given that, there may not be as many new bills circulating as Secretary Lew and others might be anticipating. Indeed, in the end the group that may end up having the greatest interest in these changes may be collectors rather than consumers.