The “$10 Founding Father” will stay the “$10 Founding Father,” and Harriet Tubman will strike another blow against slavery thanks to today’s Treasury Department announcement.
Instead of bumping Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill—a prospect that inspired widespread revolt within financial and entertainment circles —Harriet Tubman will take Andrew Jackson’s place on the $20. She’s a natural choice, a Civil War heroine who escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist, and who made more than 10 missions back to the South to help other slaves escape, as any schoolchild knows. She was also the top choice of the Women on 20s Project, where she got 33% of 600,000 Internet votes.
But the real question is, why was Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill in the first place? Besides the general complaints—that Jackson was a slaveholder and masterminded the Trail of Tears, which killed thousands of Native Americans—he fought a political war, literally called the Bank War, to abolish the national banking system and sought to reduce its economic power. And not because he wanted to limit the Federal government’s role in currency; Jackson and the “Jacksonian Democrats”—the precursor to the modern Democratic Party—felt that the bank was a threat to the southern “agrarian” way of life.
In other words, Jackson tried to abolish the bank to protect slavery.
Which means that, in replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Harriet Tubman is not just blazing the trail for women, she’s actually striking another blow against slavery (and winning the Bank War, to boot).
Heat Street salutes you, Harriet Tubman.
Of course, the decision to change the $20 and not the $10 is also a win for Alexander Hamilton, unsung hero of the nation’s founding. Hamilton has a legion of dedicated fans, some of them very high-placed. When current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that he’d be booting the man who essentially created the Treasury Secretary position and America’s banking system, it drew criticism from no less than former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Pundit Richard Brookhiser compared Jack Lew to Aaron Burr, the man who shot and killed Hamilton in a duel.
It helped, of course, that Hamilton also has celebrity star power. After Hamilton’s ouster was announced, Hamilton aficionados petitioned the cast of Hamilton the Broadway musical to intervene on Alexander’s behalf. It might have worked; when the cast visited the Treasury in March of last year, Jack Lew was very welcoming, and just last month, he appeared to reassure the show’s star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, that a decision to keep Hamilton was imminent.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 16, 2016
The Treasury will put a group of suffragettes, who led the way for American women to receive the vote, on the back of the $10 bill. They are also expected to announce that the $5 bill will feature a number of civil rights leaders. President Andrew Jackson, ousted from the $20, may also get an address change.