Treasury Department Likely To Spare Alexander Hamilton, Bad News For Andrew Jackson

The success of the Broadway musical 'Hamilton' appears to be helping to save Alexander Hamilton's place on the $10 bill. Andrew Jackson, meanwhile, looks likely to be booted from the $20 bill.

Ten Dollar Bill

For the better part of a year, if not longer, there’s been a movement to put a woman on U.S. currency, which itself hasn’t seen changes in the identity of the men depicted on American money for about a century now. Originally, the groups behind the movement were focused on changing the  $20 bill, both because of the Andrew Jackson’s own controversial history and because nobody seems to be quite sure how Jackson ended up on the  $20 bill to begin with. When the Treasury Department made its formal proposal in June, though, it ended up announcing that it would be the $10 bill that would be changed, a proposal that received enough negative blowback that the Department ended up saying that the new design would preserve Alexander Hamilton’s place on the bill as well, a decision that didn’t seem to make anyone happy. Now, it appears that the success of a Broadway musical may have saved Hamilton’s central place on the $10 bill and returned the focus to changing the $20 bill:

WASHINGTON — For more than 100 years, women have waited for a portrait of someone of their sex at the center of a paper note, a wait that appeared to be ending when Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced 10 months ago that he would choose a woman for a new $10 bill in development.

But then the fame of a striving immigrant from the West Indies named Alexander Hamilton achieved unlikely heights in the lights on Broadway more than 200 years after his untimely death. The first Treasury secretary, in the 18th century, Hamilton became a 21st-century rap-musical phenomenon, and a small coterie of history-minded Hamiltonians swelled by millions to include not just well-heeled adults shelling out up to thousands of dollars a ticket but teenagers rapping Hamilton’s life story at the dinner table.

Now Mr. Lew is leaning toward keeping Hamilton at the center of the $10 note and placing a vignette of female historical figures on the flip side.

But, in keeping with his announcement last June, Mr. Lew is expected to simultaneously announce that a woman will be front and center on the more numerous $20 notes — displacing the (currently) less popular Andrew Jackson — and that one or more women will be on the $5 bill as well. Mr. Lew’s own public hints in recent weeks have pointed in this direction.

“We’re not talking just about one bill,” Mr. Lew said Thursday on CNBC. “We’re talking about the $5, the $10 and the $20.” And last month he carefully avoided saying a woman’s portrait would be at the center of the $10 bill, telling Charlie Rose in an interview on PBS, “We are going to put a woman on the face of our currency.”

Still, it would be years before the $20 and $5 bills could be redone, a time lag that would infuriate many eager to see a woman honored.

“If Jack Lew keeps Hamilton on the front, then I don’t think we’ll ever see a woman on the front,” said Shelley Zalis, founder of the Girls Lounge, a networking organization for female corporate leaders. “Who knows if that will ever be a reality?”

The $20 and $5 bills are next in the government’s process of redesigning currency to deter increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters, and also to add new tactile features for identification by the visually impaired. Given the complexity of the process, new versions would probably not enter circulation before the 2030s, government officials say.

Treasury and White House officials, including Mr. Lew, declined to comment for the record. But already speculation about the Treasury secretary’s decision has angered some of the women who have awaited it most intently, an online group called Women on 20s.

On Friday, its leaders issued a news release excoriating Mr. Lew: “Women on 20s considers it deeply disturbing that Secretary Lew would renege on his public commitment to prominently feature a single woman on the next new bill.”

“With this decision, Secretary Lew is proving, once again, that in America it’s still a man’s world,” they added. “It was a chorus of mostly men who implored him to keep Hamilton on the $10, and he listened.”

Indeed, it was Mr. Lew’s listening — not just to Hamiltonians, but to the unanticipated millions of Americans who responded to his June invitation to recommend a woman for the currency — that accounted for his missing his self-imposed December deadline. He was hearing a cacophony of conflicting opinions, mainly pitting some women’s groups against Hamiltonians.

Now leading the Hamiltonians, in effect, was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of “Hamilton,” who, in the words of the musical’s Hamilton, was not throwing away his shot. He pressed Mr. Lew to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill when the Treasury secretary and his wife saw the musical. Mr. Miranda recently said on Twitter that Mr. Lew indicated “Ham’s fans” would be happy with the ultimate decision.

As is usually the case with decisions by the government, Lew’s decision is likely to still make some people unhappy:

With online petitions and efforts on social media, the group’s leaders — the founder, Barbara Ortiz Howard, and the executive director, Susan Ades Stone — campaigned to put a woman not on the $10 bill but on the more numerous $20, the common currency of the ubiquitous automated teller machines. Their activism, combined with Hamilton’s newly untouchable status, eventually led Mr. Lew to consider a not-so-Solomonic decision to leave Hamilton on the face of the $10 and have a woman oust Jackson from the $20.

But Women on 20s would not consider that a victory, the group’s Friday statement made clear, since the new $20 would be years away. It wanted Mr. Lew to redesign the $20 ahead of the $10, or concurrent with it.

That, however, was something Mr. Lew could not do.

The modern process for updating currency dates to the 1990s. Notes get a makeover one at a time, the sequence decided by a panel representing the Treasury Department, the Secret Service, the Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, based on confidential security concerns. In late 2012, the panel designated the $10 note as next.

(…)

And all this controversy comes before Americans even learn the identity of the woman to be celebrated on a new bill — somewhere, sometime. That in turn is sure to spawn a new spate of complaints, from all the fans of history’s heroines Mr. Lew passes over.

Women on 20s is pushing Lew to expedite the process because their goal is to have a woman on circulating currency by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote. Given the process involved in redesigning currency, though, it doesn’t seem as though there’s any easy way for Lew to expedite that process at this point. Perhaps if he had gone along with the original plan to target the $20 bill rather than spending a year targeting a Founding Father that nobody seemed to have much of anything against. Additionally, it’s unclear why Lew feels it’s necessary to change the back of the $10 bill, or to make any changes at all to the $5 bill, which features one of the nation’s most iconic leaders outside of the Founder’s generation itself.

In any case, I suppose we’ll have to wait to see what Lew announces, but if it is indeed the case that it is the $20 bill that will be changed that seems entirely appropriate. Unlike Hamilton, who served as a close aide to George Washington as well as the first Secretary of the Treasury who helped shape the financial system that powered the United States through the 19th Century and beyond, there is very little about Andrew Jackson that is admirable. He was a slaveholder, while Hamilton was basically anti-slavery, and responsible for the death of thousands of Native Americans forced from their homeland on a forced migration to what is now known as Oklahoma. He defied Supreme Court orders while President. And, his position on the Second Bank Of The United States was a large reason behind the Panic of 1837, which sent the nation into on of the most prolonged depressions of the 20th Century. If anyone deserves to be removed from American currency, it’s Andrew Jackson.

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. MarkedMan says:

    While I’m not generally someone who feels we should judge historical figures by current standards, Jackson was repugnant even by the standards of his own era. He gave personal assurances to the Indian tribe that literally saved his life that he was working on their behalf for fairness and justice at the same time he was pushing for policies that he knew would result in genocide. In fact, the evidence is pretty strong that genocide wasn’t an unfortunate side effect of the policies, but rather a goal. Jackson should never have gone on the twenty, and he should be removed at the earliest possible date.

  2. sherparick says:

    Yes, replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman (who would also be first non-white as well as woman on the currency) is appropriate. Andrew Jackson is a little more nuanced figure then our current time will give him credit and his many of his “achievements” that were celebrated in the 19th and early 20th century, we find embarrassing today. He did create the modern “party” system and founded the Democratic Party as it would continue to exist into the 1960s, a party that united factions of northern white liberals, northern white working class, the South, and western small farmers and ranchers in an uneasy alliance and he defeated Southern Nullification and gave an example of a strong executive that Lincoln, and anti-Jackson politician, would emulate 30 years later. The operative word above of course is “white” and “white privilege” and for that reason among others, Trump is an heir to Jackson (who was also somewhat of an autocrat).

  3. James Joyner says:

    I concur that Hamilton is a figure more worthy than Jackson for depiction on our currency. I’m still not sure that there’s an American woman of comparable historical significance to Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Franklin. I’d argue that James Madison is more noteworthy than Harriet Tubman, for example.

    If we’re going to do this, why not put Thomas Jefferson on the incredibly ubiquitous $20 bill and use the hardly-used $2 bill that now bears his likeness for this purpose?

  4. gVOR08 says:

    We shouldn’t judge historical figures by modern standards. But we’re also under no obligation to use the standards of their time in deciding who we wish to honor today.

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    I would remove Grant from the $50 and put Madison on it instead.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    It would be very fitting to replace someone who owned slaves (Andrew Jackson) with someone who was responsible for helping so many slaves gain their freedom (Harriet Tubman)…that she was a genuine American heroine, with her patriotic activities during the Civil War, only adds to this…

  7. Facebones says:

    Now if Andrew Jackson’s musical hadn’t closed on Broadway, there could’ve been a sing-off.

  8. Scott says:

    I guess I don’t understand why we can’t have more than one historical figure on a bill. If we can have 50 state quarters, why can’t a $10 bill have a run of Hamilton and a run of some other historical figure.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: No idea how serious a problem it would be, but it might complicate life for people who make automatic bill receptors.

  10. Slugger says:

    Another chance to trot out my idea for do-it yourself bills. The government could put hard to hack readable wirestrips into bills. You buy them and load them with whatever amount you care for and then print them with what you like. The government charges a small seigniorage fee, and I get to walk around with $23 Michael Jordan bills or $1000 bills with my Mom as the image. If you are a Yankee fan your $23 bill has Don Mattingly on it.
    The technology is here. Imagination is a good thing!

  11. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Slugger: I like it, I’m going for Pogo on my twenties and Opus on the fifties.

  12. KM says:

    @gVOR08 :
    Considering you’d have to have a template for each current bill and their previous initiators (still legal tender), I’d say not that hard. Pain in the ass to code, maybe but still doable.

    I’d think the ultimate problem would be it’s not really “fiscally responsible” to pay for multiple runs of a denomination for what is essentially a cosmetic change. The 50 state coins was a limited run attempt aimed at collectors and done in segments; they’d be loosing money by the boatload if it was still ongoing for all 50. I can see it being hauled up as an example of “government waste” that’s really indefensible. It’s a nice idea but impractical in the end.

  13. Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m still not sure that there’s an American woman of comparable historical significance to Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Franklin.

    I suspect this has a lot more to say about how we record HIStory than about the relative contribution of the genders. Just sayin’.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    Well, we already tried Sacawega on the dollar coin and that was a bust….

    Harriet Tubman, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony. Dolly Adams? Sojourner Truth?

  15. Mu says:

    Of course, if you want to remove slave holding, genocidal males from the currency you’ve got to start with George Washington. He even did it twice, first 1753 against the Seneca and then again in 1779 against the Iroquois.

  16. Tyrell says:

    Put me down as a Jackson fan, especially his amazing exploits at New Orleans*. It is very convenient to jump on and condemn someone who is long gone. Jackson was far from perfect, but he helped the growth of the US at an important time. A lot of people are giving the opinion that if they were around back then that they would oppose and speak out about some of the things that were done, such as slavery and treatment of the Native Americans. Maybe so, but most likely they would be if the prevailing opinions and trends, including “Manifest Destiny”, which today is condemned and ridiculed.
    So I will get a good biography of Colonel Jackson, bad guy that he was, and read up on his time in history: the only president to have an entire era named after him. Even Franklin Roosevelt does not have that.
    “What goes around comes around”
    *Jackson assembled a rag tag motley crew of criminals, politicians, pirates, and Tennessee backwoodsmen and defeated a larger, more experienced, and better armed British army at New Orleans: one of the greatest victories in US military history.
    Thought: General Grant organized the military actions against and round up of Native Americans in the period after the Civil War. Yet I hear no criticism or call to have his picture taken off the currency, or his monuments bulldozed !

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: IIRC it was U. S. regular Army artillery that won the day. With a lot of help from Gen. Pakenham, the British commander.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    You don´t need to restrict your bank notes to politicians. There are poets, writers, artists, in all kinds of currencies. That´s Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon, that explored the Amazon Rainforest with Ted Roosevelt in a old bank note.

    http://mlb-s1-p.mlstatic.com/cedula-nota-1000-mil-cruzeiros-cndido-rondon-593101-MLB20269736560_032015-F.jpg

  19. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger: That is a really cool idea!

    Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons our currency is so secure (or perhaps is not any worse in the security department) is that there are a wide array of features that make it difficult to forge. a number of those would disappear under this scheme. For instance, the paper is very, very difficult to create and uses a process that has literally been handed down through family ties for 9+ generations, since before the country was formed. The printing is done on high speed intaglio presses which, aside from much smaller and slower versions designed to print fancy business cards and wedding invitations, don’t really exist outside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I don’t know this of my own knowledge, but have heard that the ink contains special markers. And the plates, well, I was talking to one of the security heads at the Bureau and he told me to pull a twenty out of my wallet. I handed it over and he looked at it for a while and then spouted off a name. “Who’s that” I asked. “Oh, that’s the master engraver who did this plate. I can tell just by looking”. I may be gullible, but I believed him.

    Oh, and one more. Take any old bill higher than a five. Get a magnifying glass and look at the outermost fine line around the portrait. You will see that it’s not a line but rather teeny, tiny printing.

  20. Andre Kenji says:
  21. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @grumpy realist: Susan B Anthony was the first try at a $1 coin.

  22. @MarkedMan:

    For instance, the paper is very, very difficult to create and uses a process that has literally been handed down through family ties for 9+ generations, since before the country was formed.

    It’s actually not paper, as it’s printed on cotton fibers rather than wood pulp. Technically, all our “paper” money is made of felt.

  23. Davebo says:

    Given Jackson’s vehement opposition to the concept of a central bank why don’t we just put him on counterfeit twenties only?

  24. Tyrell says:

    @James Joyner: It seems that someone or some group is trying to just get a woman on currency; no matter who. Then they tar someone up to try and justify removing them.
    As far as women, these come to mind:
    Pocahontas
    Dolly Madison
    Betsy Ross
    Molly Pitcher
    Annie Oakley
    Florence Nightingale
    Clara Barton
    Amelia Earhart
    Mae West
    Ann Bonney

    I like the idea of having choices, much like stamps.

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: Considering that both Florence Nightengale and Clara Barton were English, wouldn’t it be weird to put them on US currency?

  26. Matt says:

    @Slugger: hard to hack HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHAHAHAHA

    Current money has a multitude of security features simply because there’s no one single security feature that works. Best we can do is throw in as many in as we can to make it hard as possible. Even then people still counterfeit with very convincing bills.

    If anyone tells you something is impossible to hack then they are feeding you a line of bull.

  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Susan B Anthony was the first try at a $1 coin.

    Nope. Dwight D. Eisenhower appeared on an enormous dollar coin in the 70s. Earlier, there was a limited edition silver dollar featuring busts of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, produced for the Paris World’s Fair of 1900 but eventually making its way into circulation.

    And that’s just the coins with real individuals. Morgan dollars and Peace dollars (with different depictions of Liberty) were widely circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    Jackson’s relationship with the native Americans was complex. To say he defied the SC to screw them over is very shallow, but it is the “history” we all “know”. He knew that if they remained in place their fate would be the same as the northeastern tribes. He was right. The US government of the time lacked the power to protect them from Georgians, et al. The SC decides what the law says, but the law is free to be a blind ass -and proud of it.

    I think he was key is shaping much of what this nation became, but it is odd to have a man who hated our financial system, Hamilton’s, which had to be restored with great labor after he was out of office, on our money.

  29. Slugger says:

    To the doubters:
    Forgery exists now. An encrypted readable wire would be no less secure than your credit cards which people seem to be happy using and accepting.
    Other than my Mom, the female figure I’d carry in my wallet would be the young Catherine Deneuve in honor of our nations first ally. I am thinking Parapluie de Cherbourg.

  30. Tony W says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Women on dollar coins, but no political will to stop printing the bills – so the coins are then viewed as a failure.

    Coincidence?

  31. al-Ameda says:

    To me, Jackson should NEVER have been put on any currency of the United States in the first place.

    As others have correctly noted, Jackson on the $20 bill is abhorrent because he intensely disliked our nascent central banking system. He viewed paper currency as a fraud, and supported gold and silver as the only true currency. That he was ever put on the $20 bill is an ongoing disgrace.

  32. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: I think that Jackson would agree with you. He would want nothing to do with the monetary system of today.

  33. Kylopod says:

    @Davebo: That’s one of the things which gets me, but which is rarely brought up in these discussions. Beyond the whole genocide issue (and I know that sounds like “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”), Jackson’s monetary policy was awful. It’s not a coincidence that his presidency was quickly followed by the third-worst depression in U.S. history. It’s not like anyone’s clamoring to get Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover onto currency.

  34. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tony W: Not even a little bit.

  35. Pete S says:

    @KM:

    Considering you’d have to have a template for each current bill and their previous initiators (still legal tender), I’d say not that hard. Pain in the ass to code, maybe but still doable.

    Actually it is a real hardship for people who operate equipment with bill acceptors. The memory chips fill up pretty quickly with different versions of each bill, leading to expensive equipment as well as software upgrades when new versions come out. As well as some significant lag time when your equipment won’t take the new bills as only certain big players get test currency in advance of a new note’s release to begin their development.

  36. grumpy realist says:
  37. grumpy realist says:

    @Joe: Yes–take half of the population, keep them from equal education, load them down with a host of time-consuming tasks, make them unequal under law, forbid them to vote, shut them out of the economic networks, refuse to grant them loans….and then complain that they haven’t been as productive as the other half of the population.

    Does James realize how silly he sounds?

  38. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article about Harriet Tubman.