The Treasury Department Wants To Put A Woman On The $10 Bill

Surely it's time to put a woman on American currency again, but why go after Alexander Hamilton?

Ten Dollar Bill

Late yesterday, the Treasury Department proposed placing a woman on American currency, but for reasons that remain somewhat inexplicable, they’ve chosen the $10 bill, which currently carries the portrait of one of the nation’s Founding Fathers:

WASHINGTON — Growing numbers of Americans are going cashless, but demands to finally put a woman on paper currency persist. And now the Treasury has announced that a portrait of a woman, to be determined soon, will grace the $10 bill.

The note will continue to have some image, also to be determined, of the current $10 honoree, Alexander Hamilton, a founding father (there were, of course, no mothers) and Treasury secretary to President George Washington (he of the $1 bill). Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, who by law makes the selection of an honoree, will disclose his choice by the end of the year. The new note will appear in 2020 — the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

The only criterion under law is that the chosen person must be dead, but the Treasury said Mr. Lew was looking for a woman “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy.” That would include the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was the top choice on social media of a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill.

Putting a woman on paper notes is certain to be an honor more long-lived than that accorded two history-making women whose images were put on coins.Susan B. Anthony, the social reformer, appeared on silver dollars minted from 1979 to 1981, and again in 1999, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition, was featured on gold-colored dollar coins from 2000. Both coins, which were often confused with quarters, proved unpopular, and production of them was stopped.

Faces on bills have not changed since 1929, when Andrew Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland on the $20 note. Basic currency designs date to that time; redesigns occur every decade or so to deter counterfeiting.

For the latest change, the Treasury has invited the public to use the hashtag #TheNew10 “to spread the word about the redesign.” Also, Mr. Lew and other officials will solicit the public’s ideas in round-table discussions and town-hall meetings.

The idea of placing a woman on American currency has been in many circles for the past several months as part of a movement to get a woman on some denomination by the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 2020. Most of that conversation, though, has focused on the $20 bill, which currently depicts Andrew Jackson. Given Jackson’s history as a slaveholder and the President behind the forced removal of Native Americans from Georgia and elsewhere it certainly seemed like a reasonable idea, and the suggestion of replacing him with Harriet Tubman had a certain bit of historical appropriateness to it.

The selection of the $10 bill and a diminished role for Hamilton, though, seems odd.  While Hamilton was never President like Jackson, he was one of the most consequential members of the Founder’s era. An aide to George Washington, a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention who played a key role in the debates that led to the drafting of the Constitution, co-author of The Federalist Papers, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and architect of much of what became the nation’s banking and fiscal systems, founder of the Federalist Party, the founder of the New York Post, and one side of a political debate that has continued in one form or another since the beginning of the Republic. Yes, Hamilton had some personal peccadilloes in his life, some of which led in part to the duel with Aaron Burr that ended his life, but there is no denying his place in history and, unlike other members of the Founder generation that are memorialized all over the place in this country, Hamilton was not a slaveholder and, while his positions on slavery and race relations were as complex as anyone else from that era, he seems to have been among the more liberal side of that particular argument. What good reason is there for removing Hamilton from the currency while keeping someone like Jackson? None that I can see, especially since nobody can really explain how Jackson ended up on the $20 bill to begin with.

Looking at it from the other perspective, one could note that it would be odd for the $10 bill to have two portraits on it, which seems to be what the plan announced last night is suggesting. As I said, there’s no reason not to have a woman on currency. It’s been quite a long time since that has been the case, and the efforts to use a $1 coin to introduce a female face into circulation have been spectacular flops for reasons that have nothing to do with the person depicted on the coin itself. Why not give this woman, whomever she ends up being (although I personally say Tubman is the best choice), her own place of prominence? And, again, the $20 bill is the best place to do that while at the same time ceasing the silly practice of honoring someone who doesn’t really deserve to be honored. Once again, it seems as though the government has messed up what should have been an easy call.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I read at the Guardian that they are picking the $10 because it is due for a renewal (for what that’s worth) Also, interesting that they think a woman shouldn’t get a bill of her own, that she should have to share it with a man. Misogynistic much Mr.Lew?

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I haven’t seen a $10 bill for years. I rarely pay “cash” for anything anymore so why bother? Don’t put a new face on it just kill it.

  3. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ve been using cash a lot the last few years to try to keep our expenses under control (I think it’s a Dave Ramsey idea). It works reasonably well.

    I don’t know how to feel about this. Replacing Jackson with Tubman would be a huge upgrade. And I would love to see our currency have more non-politicians on it (Einstein, Borlaug, Salk, the Wright brothers, Tubman, Apollo astronauts, etc.) Putting a woman on the ten with Hamilton smacks of, “OK, women. Fine! Happy now?”

  4. Scott says:

    I
    Why replace at all? I like the idea of having the denominations (whether 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 bills) having multiple faces. Why not? Bills are printed all the time. Have a rotating list of 2 or 3 people and just print them.

  5. Ken says:

    An informative and interesting article, thanks Doug

    I lean strongly towards the “replace Jackson instead” camp, myself – Hamilton is under-appreciated in grade school and high school history classes; he deserves some kind of recognition

  6. Dave D says:

    It is likely the $10 because it will cause the least stir. It is the least ubiquitous of the small bills. The uproar over replacing Washington or Lincoln would be too much. But $20 are everywhere compared to tens so that freak out would probably be much larger. This is America any change whatsoever will cause the small minded to get the vapors. Remember when they recent changed the $100 and people were concerned it had too much color and we were becoming Canada?

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Janis Joplin would be fine with me, as would Marilyn Monroe or Scarlett Johansson.

  8. Slugger says:

    Firstly, I would like to trot out my idea of personalized money. Just as you can buy prepaid gift cards, you should be able to buy a blank piece of treasury paper that you can load up with value via an embedded strip and imprint with the images of your choice. I want to buy a deep dish pizza with my $23 Michael Jordans or a thin pizza with my $23 Don Mattinglys.
    Secondly, does iconography matter? I imagine an archeologist of the distant future studying France. The image of the nation’s hero was Joan D’Arc. There were many altars featuring the Virgin Mary, and the most imposing church was in her honor. The nation and abstractions such as Liberty and Justice were represented by women. Will the future think that France was a matriarchy?
    Please understand that I support full equality of women and indeed all persons, but some of these symbolic acts don’t mean much to me.

  9. Tyrell says:

    Cash is used much less now, so a lot of people would not notice. I would favor a pool of choices that would include inventors, writers, athletes, and entertainers. Any changes should not be done just to satisfy some group of people. A few months ago some people were jumping on Andrew Jackson .

    “In 1814 we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Missisipp’
    We fired once more and they began a runnin’ right down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”
    (Horton)

  10. stonetools says:

    @Ken:

    Indeed Hamilton was the immmigrant who made good. He is was favor of the modern banking system upon which our modern capitalistic system is built. And he was anti slavery.

    Jackson was a war hero who was in favor of universal male suffrage. He was also a major slaveholder, slave trader, and conducted a ruthless ethnic cleansing campaign against the native Americans of the US Southeast ( the Trail of Tears). Finally, he opposed just the kind of national banking system that Hamilton supported.

    We would have to say that Andrew Jackson has a mixed legacy.Hamilton does seem more of a good guy, so it seems that Jackson should be the guy who is replaced, or at least partially displaced.The liberals have been arguing just this.
    Seems strange that the Administration picked Hamilton as the one to get the (partial) axe.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    I vote for getting rid of Jackson and putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 instead. Poetic justice.

  12. Pinky says:

    Hamilton was a currency guy. What’s the case for Harriet Tubman establishing our American banking system? If they want to put someone new on a bill, they should get rid of Jackson, as others have noted. Jackson was a racist, corrupt blowhard with no regard for the law, who played groups against each other – and as such, the father of the Democratic Party. Maybe it’s good that we have bills with each of the fathers of our two parties, so people can more easily understand their characters.

  13. MikeSJ says:

    I’m voting for a young Audrey Hepburn.

    Who wouldn’t want to see her on a ten spot?

  14. JKB says:

    You really can’t expect a Democratic Party controlled administration to remove the founder of the modern Democratic Party from the currency, can you?

    In any case, why is the selection going by the very uninformed celebrity (name recognition) selection of the woman? Do a little research

    Here’s a nice candidate, Sarah Breedlove, the first self-made female American millionaire.

    More than any other single businessperson, Walker [nee Breedlove] unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy, even one stifled and suffocating under Jim Crow segregation,” wrote Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.

  15. JKB says:

    @MikeSJ:

    Audrey Hepburn was a British actress and humanitarian.

    If we are to include Brits, then Margaret Thatcher.

  16. MikeSJ says:

    @JKB:

    True on Audrey being British but I’m going for the …more universal approach…that being beautiful women.

    Personally I’d dump Jackson on the $20 and replace him with Franklin Roosevelt.

    If you want non politicians then Edison, the Wright brothers or Mark Twain perhaps.

  17. Andre Kenji says:
  18. RGardner says:

    How about making some higher denomination notes, making a few more spots open? Ever buy a used car with cash? Big stack of $100 bills. A 1929 (currency redesign year) $100 bill is the equivalent of $1390 today!. So how about $500 and $1000 bills? There is the stopping crime argument, but that is punishing the general population, for the governments failure. There are 200 and 500 Euro notes.

  19. Stan says:

    Let’s wait on this. When Jeb! is elected we’ll get Dagny Taggart or maybe Ayn herself.

  20. Tillman says:

    Guy on Twitter (might have been Dave Weigel) proposed doing what the UK does: rotate historical figures on all (or most, if Washington/Lincoln are that sacred) of the bills every four years or so.

    Need to get “In God We Trust” off the money too if only because it’s frickin’ blasphemous, as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out a century ago.

  21. Tyrell says:

    @grumpy realist: Jackson was said to be against paper money. So he would probably be against his image being on currency. I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman; I am sure she has done some good things. But they need to come up with a better image.
    Jackson is the only president to have an entire era named for him, so he had to have accomplished something. A lot of people are jumping on him unfairly. It is easy to criticize some one when they are no longer around.

  22. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell: Your high school (or was it middle school) teacher did so much to make history relevant and exciting and yet you “don’t know much about Harriet Tubman?” Shame on him!

  23. de stijl says:

    @Dave D:

    Remember when they recent changed the $100 and people were concerned it had too much color and we were becoming Canada?

    We’re not polite enough to be Canadian.

  24. de stijl says:

    I am sure she has done some good things.

    Talk about damning with faint praise.

    There are these things called search engines. Google or Bing. They could easily direct to a place called Wiki, where you could, if you wanted, read up about Harriet Tubman and find out about some of the good things she did in about 1.5 minutes.

    Type Harriet Tubman+wiki, click on the top link, read, scroll, read. Total time out of your lifespan would be two minutes, tops.

    You should check it out. All the cool kids are doing it.

  25. Moosebreath says:

    “but why go after Alexander Hamilton?”

    Because he’s the person on the smallest numbered unit of currency who was never President (and the next smallest is Ben Franklin on the $100).

  26. de stijl says:

    @Tillman:

    Guy on Twitter (might have been Dave Weigel)

    Thumbs up to the shout-out for Weigel. He’s a mensch who deserves a big audience.

  27. Matt says:
  28. Matt says:

    I vote to replace Jackson too. He abhorred paper money and the central bank. Not to mention his incredibly checkered past.

  29. dazedandconfused says:

    @stonetools:

    …and conducted a ruthless ethnic cleansing campaign against the native Americans of the US Southeast ( the Trail of Tears).

    Or maybe he was right, the Georgians would have wiped them out just the same as the New Englanders had theirs. He did not intend it to be a death march. That was on the people who conducted it. This was before telegraphs, rail roads, even a Pony Express type courier system into those parts. In those times no Indian was allowed to keep any land a white men wanted. Blaming Jackson seems dishonest to me, it’s a scape-goating for the American people of the time. He spent money trying to save them because the feds at that time had no means with white to enforce that Supreme Court decision. Same thing happened after the civil war, kinda. The fed lacked the resources to enforce equal treatment for blacks then too. Jackson had much, much less than they did.

    That said I’d toss him in favor of keeping Hamilton too. Hamilton is under appreciated, he didn’t have the opportunity to “tend to his image” in the manner that many of his peers had and his contribution is at least as large as Jackson’s.