Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has corrected the terms of the recent Jackson Removal debate by pointing out there has been one woman on U.S. paper money (Martha Washington on a $1 silver certificate from 1891 to 1896) just like there has been one American Indian (Running Antelope on a $5 silver certificate in 1889). Still, Lew has gone along with the push to honor another woman in time for the centennial of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s right to vote in 2020. The difficulty for Jackson Removal is that the next bill scheduled to be redesigned is the ten rather than the twenty.
The historical irony could be cut with a knife. Alexander Hamilton was the most aggressive mercantilist among the founders, the father of the U.S. economic structure and the first national bank and the U.S. Mint. He was George Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury for good reason. If anyone has claim to the limited real estate on U.S. paper money, it is Hamilton.
Andrew Jackson—setting off to one side his slave mongering practices that offended even other slave owners and his leading role in the ethnic cleansing of the Five Tribes from the Southeastern U.S.—counted his veto of the reauthorization of the national bank to be an accomplishment for which he wished to be remembered. President Jackson was opposed to the very idea of paper money and spent as much time crusading against a national bank as he spent crusading against Indians. Putting his likeness on a Federal Reserve Note makes no historical sense unless an ironic insult is intended.
Removing Hamilton while retaining Jackson is hard to fathom. According to The New York Times, many advocates for Hamilton are joining #DumpJackson, some opposed to genocide and some in favor of historical common sense.
For Indians, particularly citizens of the Five Tribes, Jackson Removal is a worthy cause without regard to who replaces him.
Jillian Keenan, writing for Slate, suggested why Jackson Removal is not as simple as historical logic would suggest: “I’ve never received more death threats than I did for the article about booting Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill. Dead white guys have vocal armies.”
Lew’s idea of removing Hamilton drew days of social media criticism. In response, the Secretary proposed something even more ludicrous: adding a woman to the $10 bill while keeping Hamilton. First, the women ask for the twenty and get the ten. Now they only get half of the ten?
While the debate continues over where the woman goes, the national discussion continues over which woman. According to The New York Times, the leaders appear to be Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. It was Tubman, ex-slave, union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad, who won the competition sponsored by Women on 20s.
Some people believe that the two women who recently appeared on U.S. coins, Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, did not get fair treatment because the coins were so poorly executed, both too similar to a quarter by size and the Sacagawea too similar to a penny by color. Everybody but a few collectors rejected both coins.
Which woman among many should be honored will be debated until Secretary Lew makes his decision by the end of the year. The Treasury Department will continue taking public input at town hall meetings and on social media, especially #TheNew10.
Still, the idea of Jackson Removal refuses to die, and while the driving forces behind #DumpJackson remain African-Americans offended by Jackson’s particularly vicious slaving methods and American Indians offended by Jackson’s ethnic cleansing, the idea of Andrew Jackson—the anti-paper money and anti-central banking president—appearing on a Federal Reserve Note will always be controversial among people who read U.S. history.
Even those who think slave mongering and Indian fighting ought not to be judged by today’s ethics must still admit that Hamilton earned a place on U.S. money but putting Jackson there is historically preposterous.