Hey, Got change for a twenty? Be careful who you ask. I asked the government, and they gave me change, but it’s not what you think. They changed the face on the twenty dollar bill!
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew recently announced a historically symbolic makeover of American currency, proposing to replace Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder, on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist. He also promised to add women and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 bills.
Originally, Secretary Lew wanted to get rid of his predecessor, first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, taking him off the 10 dollar bill, but a coincidence right out of “news of the weird” changed his mind. A Broadway musical (a rap musical no less) on the life of Hamilton just happened to become a big hit and may have saved Hamilton, who was, one more weird fact, killed in a duel with one of our first vice presidents, Aaron Burr.
No musical for our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, however. He’s gone from revered to reviled in recent years. How did this happen?
Andrew Jackson was just a boy during the revolutionary war, when he lost his brother to the fighting. When British officers came to his home, they demanded he shine their boots. He refused, and got a slash from a saber for his impertinence across the hand and face, scars he carried for the rest of his life.
He entered the military and became the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle of the war of 1812. He ran for president and was our nation’s leader from 1829-1837. He was the first candidate of the just-formed Democratic Party. The first Democrat, how about that?
Jackson was a crusty character, though, and was controversial in his own time and much more in ours. During the election, he was outed as having an affair with a married woman, who he eventually married. The Jacksons were brutally handled in the press and she actually died before he was sworn into office.
But it’s his later history that gets him in trouble today. His plantation, 1000 acres, had hundreds of slaves and he was a staunch pro-slavery advocate, although his supporters today say it was just to hold the union together.
Andrew Jackson wasn’t very nice to Native Americans either. The Cherokee tribe, which allied with the US during the war of 1812, was forcibly removed from its land in NC, Georgia, and other eastern states and force-marched to a reservation in Oklahoma. The journey is now called “the Trail of Tears”. This was the result of a bill he signed called the Indian Removal Act, which was deemed unconstitutional by John Marshall’s Supreme Court. When Jackson heard of the ruling, he said, “Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it”. Ouch.
So all this stuff makes for bad PR today, and the government has decided to toss old Andrew Jackson into the dustbin of history and pick a woman, an African-American woman, to replace him as the face of the twenty dollar bill.
Harriet Tubman gets the nod: She’s the woman whose Underground Railroad we all learned about in history class. She funneled hundreds of slaves to freedom before and during the Civil War. Expect the official change to occur in 2020.
Over time, the 5 and 10 dollar bills will also see some changes as well. Suffragettes who helped women get the vote will show up on the backs of these bills in the future. Martin Luther King Jr. will also be featured with the Lincoln Memorial as a backdrop on the back of the five.
Good or bad? Traditionalists will say bad, but this is a different country than it was. Time marches on. It waits for no man, especially a man not very popular with our nation’s minorities. Our growing population of Latins won’t be left out, either. Expect to see migrant labor activist Cesar Chavez on our currency in the not-too-distant future.