Trump Administration Still Won’t Commit To Putting Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill

The plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill appears to be running up against President Trump's bizarre affinity for Andrew Jackson.

In the closing years of the Obama Administration was considering redesigning American currency by placing a woman on the $10 bill in place of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the who had also served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution. Thanks largely to the popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, though, the plan to replace Hamilton was scrapped and it was announced that the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who later helped to found the Underground Railroad that led escaped slaves to freedom in the 19th Century and later served as a Union agent in the South during the Civil War, would replace former Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. After the Trump Administration took power, though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin seemed to throw cold water on that idea, although it wasn’t clear if the idea was being abandoned entirely. Now, roughly a year later, the Administration still won’t commit to the idea of putting Tubman on the $20 bill, or replacing Jackson at all:

WASHINGTON — President Trump has tried to undo as many Obama-era policies as possible during his first 500 days in office, but his administration has remained curiously circumspect when it comes to one of his predecessor’s initiatives: putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

In a letter to Congress that was released on Tuesday, the Treasury Department praised Tubman, a former slave and abolitionist who is a civil rights hero, but made no commitment as to whether she would one day be the new face of the $20.

In 2016, former Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that the currency was being redrawn, adding Tubman to the front and moving President Andrew Jackson to the back. The new designs were expected to be unveiled in 2020.

The letter, which was in response to a formal inquiry from Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said Tubman’s “courage and persistence” were emblematic of America’s ideals and values.

But it did not say if she was still part of the redesign.

“The redesign of the next currency series is still in the early stages, and neither the final designs nor all features have been finalized for the new notes,” wrote Drew Maloney, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs. “For this reason, the department is unable to provide additional information regarding the potential designs at this time.”

The initial hope was to get a woman on American currency in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Realistically speaking, that was probably not an option given the time that it takes for the redesign process to be finalized and put into production. Nonetheless, it does seem as though delaying the decision or scrapping it entirely is the wrong way to go. For one thing, there hasn’t been a woman on American currency since the 19th Century. With the centennial of the ratification of the Amendment that finally met the demands of the suffragette movement that started not soon after the end of the Civil War approaching, it would seem to be long overdue for an American woman to appear on American currency again.

Additionally, replacing Jackson with Tubman would be a measure of justice. Unlike Hamilton, whose place on the $10 bill is apparently secure for now, there is very little about Andrew Jackson that is admirable. In addition to being a slave owner, Jackson was also responsible for the death of thousands of Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and sent on a forced migration to what is now Oklahoma on what came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.” While he was President, Jackson defied Supreme Court orders, including orders directly related his policies toward Native Americans. Additionally, Jackson’s position on the Second Bank of the United States was the primary factor behind the Panic of 1837, which sent the United States 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.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the fact that the Administration is apparently balking on the idea of replacing Jackson on the $20 bill, though, lies in the fact that the President seems to have some kind of weird affinity for him:

Andrew Jackson was a slaveholder, a populist and an emotionally volatile man who fought in as many as 100 duels during his lifetime.

Naturally, Donald Trump has great admiration for him.

In fact, Trump—despite his gaping and well-demonstrated ignorance of American history—has developed an unusual fixation with the seventh president. In January, Trump described Jackson as “an amazing figure in American history—very unique [in] so many ways” and hung a portrait of the early president in the Oval Office. And on Monday, during an interview with Salena Zito, a host on SiriusXM, Trump made some of his most mystifying historical proclamations to date: He claimed that Jackson might have been able to stop the Civil War. (Jackson died in 1845, a decade and a half before the war broke out.)

Here are the widely circulated comments, which would not likely pass muster in a fourth-grade classroom:

While these remarks are not at all historically sound, Trump’s ongoing fixation with Jackson is telling. There are substantial parallels between the two men. Jackson, who served as president from 1829 until 1837, was a populist. In fact, Smithsonian’s Harry Watson has noted, “it was the presidential campaigns of Andrew Jackson that made the populist style a major force in national politics.”

(…)

Why does Trump like to compare himself to Jackson? Maybe because so many of his allies made a point of positioning Trump as a successor of Jackson, usually as a way of beefing up his populist credentials.

“Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon said in an interview shortly after Trump’s victory. Newt Gingrich invoked Jackson’s name way back in August, touting Trump’s psychological capabilities by saying that he’s “at least as reliable as Andrew Jackson.” And here’s Rudy Giuliani on election night: “This is like Andrew Jackson’s victory. This is the people beating the establishment.” (Trump surrogates don’t tend to mention the ethnic cleansing stuff.)

Though he boasts constantly of his wealth (and favors a tax plan that would mostly aid the wealthy), Trump clearly likes to be thought of as a champion of the “forgotten man”—and comparing himself to Jackson gives him a historical antecedent that he probably finds flattering. It legitimizes his presidency. Jackson is on the $20 bill. Despite the more despicable aspects of his legacy, he remains reasonably popular among historians. (Though his popularity is sliding, and some are blaming Trump for that.)

The temperamental similarities between the two men are significant, though less commonly remarked upon. Andrew Jackson was known to be vengeful, violent and obsessed with his honor. He fought in dozens of duels and once killed a man who called him “a worthless scoundrel.” (During one of these duels he was shot in the chest, yet carried on and killed his rival.) He was quoted as saying he had two regrets from his presidency: “that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.” Trump is similarly unstable and obsessed with his enemies, though he generally prefers insulting people on Twitter to fighting duels. Maybe if Twitter was around in 1830 Jackson could have just done that instead of shooting people who pissed him off.00

That article was written last year and it’s fair to say that, in the intervening time, Trump has clearly operated in the spirit of Jacksonian populism, usually in the worst possible way. Like his campaign, Trump has portrayed himself as a champion of the “common man” notwithstanding the fact that his Cabinet is full of elites from the worlds of banking, business, and Wall Street. On the campaign trail, though, Trump has presented himself as the same kind of populist that Jackson was, and he’s engaged in the same kind of battles with Congress, the media, and the Courts that Jackson did. The only difference between the two seems to be that Trump at least appears to recognize that he has to comply with Court orders no matter how much he disagrees with them, but one could argue that his continued efforts to undermine the Russia investigation are akin to Jackson’s defiance of the Supreme Court. Additionally, his open contempt for the media mimics the attitude that Jackson took toward his own critics of the day, right down to the name calling and the accusations of disloyalty. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Trump is the most Jacksonian President we’ve had since Jackson himself, and that’s not a good thing. In any case, given the fact that we’ve got a President who not only admires Jackson but openly emulates him, the odds that he’ll allow his hero to be removed from the $20 bill are pretty slim.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, 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. Facebones says:

    Yes, Trump will absolutely take a white racist president who started the Trail of Tears off the $20 and replace him with (in his mind) some nobody black chick. There’s really no mystery as to why they’re delaying this.

    If he replaces Jackson with anyone, it’ll be himself.

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  2. James Pearce says:

    In any case, given the fact that we’ve got a President who not only admires Jackson but openly emulates him, the odds that he’ll allow his hero to be removed from the $20 bill are pretty slim.

    Oh, I don’t know about that. If Kim Kardashian asked for it, Harriet Tubman would be on the twenty by the end of the week.

    It’s just that she’s asking for people to be released from jail instead of focusing on symbolic, trivial matters like this.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    Let’s widen things out from the field of politics and look at great cultural contributors. Personally I’d pick W.C. Handy or Robert Johnson over Tubman.

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  4. KM says:

    @James Pearce:

    focusing on symbolic, trivial matters like this.

    If it’s trivial, then what the problem? A redesign is needed anyways so they have to announce their decision eventually. If it’s so trivial then why is there resistance? Shouldn’t they have better things to do then care? Why hem and haw on something symbolic unless you have an issue with what’s being symbolized? I’m sorry but that sounds like the person who continually informs you they’re giving the silent treatment. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Either it’s important or it’s not and if it’s not, then why do they seem to care enough that they’re being all passive-aggressive?

    Frankly, I don’t care who’s on the currency but unless there’s a good reason to deny the request, what skin is it off my nose they change it? Off anyone’s nose, really. Other nations rotate out images on currency as a security feature so keeping it static seems somewhat counterproductive. Why keep the image of a man that would be PISSED if he knew he was being used to support a national bank when we can improve national security by deterring counterfeiting?

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  5. CSK says:

    Actually, we had a woman on currency–Susan B. Anthony–from 1979 to 1981: the dollar coin. Unfortunately, people kept mistaking it for a quarter. But if you count coins as currency, and my Merriam-Webster does, Ms. Anthony was there.

    As for Trump: “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War.” Is he f*cking serious?

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    No way that racist fvck allows a anyone that isn’t lily-white on any currency.
    Besides…he’s going to put himself on a bill any day now.
    Right after he attacks the biggest nat’l security threat we face; Canada.

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  7. george says:

    Well, Jackson on the twenty is a reminder that there was at least one president far worse than Trump himself, so he’s going to keep it around.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    As for Trump: “People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War.” Is he f*cking serious?

    Yes.

    But remember “No one knew healthcare could be so complicated”?

    He means he didn’t know or never asked, therefore no one else could possibly ever have, either.

    It’s almost similar to the normal human reaction, when you learn a fact you should know but didn’t, and then you ask someone, for example, “Did you know the Iliad doesn’t tell the whole story of the Trojan War?”

    Trump would find this out and proclaim “No one knew the Iliad doesn’t tell the whole story of the Trojan War.” as though no one had ever read the Iliad, the Odyssey or the Aeneid before.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Jackson certainly did some bad things, but he did push the westward expansion – which the leaders and most of the people wanted. He also was the hero who saved New Orleans from total destruction by the British – one of the greatest military victories in history. He is the only president to have a period of history named after him. He adamantly opposed any thoughts of Southern secession, and that probably delayed any such action for decades. He was elected president twice. I do not support all he did, but I have read enough to realize his importance in the beginnings of this country.
    How about Grant? He is on the currency. Great general, no doubt about it. But take a look at his actions out west and his policy toward the native Americans after the Civil War.
    Putting Tubman on currency – ok. But leave Colonel Jackson. Trump is not his only supporter.

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  10. Mister Bluster says:

    The plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill appears to be running up against President Trump’s disgusting affinity for the stinking bigots of the KKK and American Nazis.

    Don’t forget the Sacagawea $1 coin.

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  11. Mister Bluster says:

    I keep missspellling my eMail address and sending comments to the spam filter.
    Please release my recent post.

    Edit: That was fast!

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  12. James Pearce says:

    @KM:

    If it’s so trivial then why is there resistance?

    I’ll attempt to explain.

    Some things that are trivial get inflated in importance the more symbolic they become. Kneeling before the anthem is a completely trivial act and yet, the symbolic nature of it elevates it from something trivial into something “important.” Changing the portrait on the twenty is also trivial and symbolic.

    You ask why there is resistance? Because it costs almost nothing to fight against the trivial and symbolic.

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  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Tyrell:
    Yeah…show me where I mentioned Jackson?

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  14. Franklin says:

    Note to Doug: comments are seemingly disabled for the Devos gun post.

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  15. wr says:

    @James Pearce: ” Changing the portrait on the twenty is also trivial and symbolic”

    The fact that you conflate symbolic with trivial really says everything we need to know about the depth of your thinking.

    It never mattered a bit to me that there were only white male faces on currency when I was growing up — but maybe that’s because my face is also white and male, so I was accepted into the club. To a young minority kid it’s a loud message telling them no to bother because they’re not really part of this society.

    Maybe you don’t think that symbolism is important, but I guarantee that to a lot of people who don’t look like you and me it’s anything but trivial.

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  16. Kathy says:

    The US Treasury should come up with a $3 bill with Trump on one side, the 2016 electoral map on the other, and the word “SPECIMEN” overlaid on both sides.

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  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    School Shooting Post still has comments disabled.

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  18. James Pearce says:

    The fact that you conflate symbolic with trivial really says everything we need to know about the depth of your thinking.

    To be clear, I’m not claiming that “symbolic” and “trivial” are synonyms. I’m saying that this Tubman thing is symbolic and trivial, too. (As in, retains both qualities.)

    To a young minority kid it’s a loud message telling them no to bother because they’re not really part of this society.

    No, it’s not a loud message or a “message” at all. Very few people think “they’re not really part of this society” because someone on the twenty dollar bill doesn’t look like them.

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  19. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    My mistake. For some reason, the “Allow Comments” setting was turned off. I’ve fixed that so you guys should be able to comment there now.

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  20. Scott F. says:

    @James Pearce:

    If Kim Kardashian asked for it, Harriet Tubman would be on the twenty by the end of the week.

    I think this is actually a strategy worth pursuing. Kim has a lot of time on her hands and Trump really is that vacuous. We should start of list of other things Kim should ask him for.

    And BTW, “Very few people think “they’re not really part of this society” because someone on the twenty dollar bill doesn’t look like them.” is the sort of thing that is said by someone whose experience is that most every symbolic indication of who matters in this society does look like them. How could you possibly know how a young minority sees their place?

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  21. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Very few people think “they’re not really part of this society” because someone on the twenty dollar bill doesn’t look like them.”

    Have you ever actually asked anyone about that?

    But a quick apology — I should not have criticized the depth of your thinking when I was referring to the depth of your argument. Obviously I know little or nothing about your thought processes and can only discuss what you said here!

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  22. James Pearce says:

    @Scott F.:

    How could you possibly know how a young minority sees their place?

    Admittedly, it’s just a guess, but the superficial differences between the races and our shared humanity\culture doesn’t make me think this kind of thing is inscrutable.

    If seeing someone different from you on a dollar bill causes you so much distress that you question your place in society, you should seek out the friends who are willing to call you on your shit or, if you don’t have any, seek therapy. You need to change, not the portrait.

    I guess I just feel comfortable, perhaps more comfortable than ever, saying that if dead white presidents on the money or Asian chicks in Star Wars flicks hurts your feelings, you need to grow up.

    @wr:

    Have you ever actually asked anyone about that?

    I’ve heard you use the phrase “childish narcissism.” Doesn’t that apply here?

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  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    Trump must be a Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson fan.

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    Admittedly, it’s just a guess, but the superficial differences between the races and our shared humanityculture doesn’t make me think this kind of thing is inscrutable.

    Sadly, there are far too many people in our country, particularly white people, it would seem, who do not think the differences between the “races” are simply superficial and also do not think much of our shared humanity/culture…as such, “trivial” matters like putting Harriet Tubman’s picture on the $20 bill may have more meaning than you seem to understand…

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  25. Scott F. says:

    @James Pearce:

    As a older white guy myself and someone with a healthy skepticism of “woke” sensitivities, I guess I just feel comfortable, perhaps more comfortable than ever, saying that I would find it presumptuous as all hell to claim that a person of color or a woman that feels un- or under-represented in civic and popular culture is suffering from mental disease (requiring therapy) or is just being a cry baby. If you want to narrow the scope to money and Star Wars in order to trivialize the premise, you’ll need to realize that doesn’t mask your profound lack of empathy for people not like yourself.

    Talk about “narcissism.”

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  26. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    as such, “trivial” matters like putting Harriet Tubman’s picture on the $20 bill may have more meaning than you seem to understand

    What, then, will be the meaning?

    You don’t have to accept Jackson’s depiction as a commemoration, do you? It doesn’t have to be Harriet Tubman, does it? If depicting Jackson, an indelible piece of US history, is so awful, in theory we could replace him with anyone or anything. The flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Eisenhower. JFK. The 911 first responders. It doesn’t need to be part of some intersectional social justice critique, does it?

    @Scott F.:

    you’ll need to realize that doesn’t mask your profound lack of empathy for people not like yourself.

    Nah, all this comes from a well spring of empathy for people not like myself. When they’re paying their unaffordable rent in Tubman twenties, I imagine they won’t be feeling very much gratitude or inspiration.

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  27. An Interested Party says:

    It doesn’t need to be part of some intersectional social justice critique, does it?

    How about putting her on the $20 bill simply because she is a genuine American heroine, someone who represents the best of our country…or perhaps you think that’s too much for people to grasp…

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  28. Kylopod says:

    On the right there’s long been a myth that Obama was constantly accusing his critics of racism. In fact he rarely did that, but one notable exception came during the 2008 campaign when he remarked that Republicans would attack him because he had a “funny name” and didn’t “look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills.”

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  29. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    How about putting her on the $20 bill simply because she is a genuine American heroine, someone who represents the best of our country

    There are a lot of genuine American heroes who represent the best of our country on the spreadsheet. You just sorted it by race/gender (in ascending order) to fix a problem that’s not really a problem (too many white dudes!) and to impress people who would be more impressed if you focused on actual improvements to their lives instead of symbolic gestures.

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    You just sorted it by race/gender…

    Not really…she is appropriate for this regardless of her ethnic background and gender…

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  31. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “If seeing someone different from you on a dollar bill causes you so much distress ”

    It’s not “seeing someone different” on money — that’s the cause of the freakout of the ones who don’t want Tubman on the bill.

    It’s only seeing people not of your group on every symbol of power and authority that causes some minorities to believe that the majority culture has no interest in including them.

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  32. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    she is appropriate for this regardless of her ethnic background and gender

    What makes her “appropriate” –to you– is that’s she’s the only historical figure you can think of who is a black woman and you have this idea that white men are at the top of the social hierarchy and black women are at the bottom and that by changing the portrait on the money you’re adjusting, however slightly, that historical injustice.

    Do I have it wrong?

    @wr:

    that’s the cause of the freakout of the ones who don’t want Tubman on the bill.

    There’s no “freak out,” dude.

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  33. An Interested Party says:

    Do I have it wrong?

    Yes, of course you do, but that’s hardly surprising…

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  34. teve tory says:

    @An Interested Party:

    She was a pretty serious badass.

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