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The Odds on Jackson Removal and a Native on Paper Money—Yes, It Happened

What are the chances of removing President Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill, and would he have even wanted to be on it?

Andrew Jackson the Indian fighter was a working class hero in his time. He styled himself the champion of the common man, for which the common men revered him and in those times nobody cared what the women thought. The swell folks and swell folks wannabes ridiculed him.

They even went after his wife. Jackson had first married Rachel Robards, née Donelson, while she was under a mistaken but reasonable belief that her divorce was final, relying on a newspaper report that had been planted by her first husband.

Upon learning the truth, she allowed her first husband to finalize the divorce on a ground not in the original petition, adultery. She and Jackson then remarried. Jackson’s more polite political opponents called his wife a bigamist; those less polite called her a whore. Jackson believed for the rest of his days that the brutal campaign caused the heart attack that took her life before his first inauguration.

Jackson’s tenure in Washington is a line in the historical sand, this side of which elitism is no longer an article of the American creed. Had Jackson not existed, Abraham Lincoln’s campaign narrative of humble origins would have sunk him and Mitt Romney’s high birth would have guaranteed he could trounce the son of a mixed marriage raised in the middle class.

In modern times, Indians have found a political voice and the dominant narrative about Jackson has changed to emphasize the Indian Removal Act and how President Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s holding in Worchester v. Georgia and removed the people of the Five Tribes to Indian Territory with such a terrible loss of life that even colonial histories call it the Trail of Tears.

Jackson’s campaign promise to remove Indians to west of the Mississippi led to a string of bogus treaties negotiated in a style represented best by a line from The Godfather: “Make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Too many sketchy methods to detail here brought Dancing Rabbit Creek (Choctaw) in 1830, Cusseta (Creek) and Payne’s Landing (Seminole) in 1832, and New Echota (Cherokee) in 1835. In 1836, the Chickasaw, seeing no other choice, accepted a payment for their ancestral lands and bought a piece of the Choctaw Reservation in Indian Territory.

How, then, does a man whose methods of slave dealing caused controversy even in a time when owning slaves did not and whose current political legacy is ethnic cleansing come to have his portrait on a $20 Federal Reserve note, with more twenties in circulation than there are people on the planet? The short answer is nobody knows.

The Washington Post inquired of Jackson’s memorial museum, The Hermitage, of the Treasury Department, and of the professor who edited Jackson’s papers, and found no trace of how Jackson came to be on the twenty.

Jackson the working class hero has appeared in the past on bills denominated $5, $10, $50, and—very odd for a representative of working people—$10,000. Old Hickory left this world in 1845 and reappeared on a $10,000 bill in 1870. His last appearance at that level was in 1900, and if you were thinking of collecting one, there are supposed to be two of the 1882 Jackson $10,000 notes left in circulation.

His only current place is the twenty and some people don’t like it, particularly Indians and particularly citizens of the Five Tribes. The irony of making a controversy over this is that Andrew Jackson himself would turn over in his grave if he knew his likeness had been stamped on Federal Reserve notes.

Jackson didn’t believe in paper money in the first place, and the signature issue of his presidency was adamant opposition to the Bank of the United States. He vetoed an extension of the national bank’s charter and managed to kill the forerunner of the Federal Reserve Bank.

In our times, a group of women is taking on the fact that there are no women on U.S. paper money. Examining the current set of portraits, they decided that Andrew Jackson has the least claim to the honor. The men on the money are eight Presidents, two Treasury Secretaries, and Benjamin Franklin.

Taking aim at Jackson, they started a movement, Women on 20s, with the stated aim of replacing Jackson with a woman by 2020, the centennial of women getting the right to vote. There has been some sentiment in the organization for an Indian woman, in light of Jackson’s misdeeds.

While there has never been a woman on the paper money, there was, briefly, one Indian. The Hunkpapa Lakota leader Running Antelope appeared on a $5 silver certificate in 1899. Cherokee lawyer Houston B. Teehee, serving as Register of the Treasury, had his signature on all denominations of paper money from 1915 to 1919.

This $5 note featuring Running Antelope is available for sale on eBay for around $10,000.

The last organized attempt to alter the portraiture on U.S. paper money was a failed movement to oust U.S. Grant from the $50 in favor of Ronald Reagan.

There was a very well done attempt to do away with all the dead presidents reported in these pages.

RELATED: Killing the Dead Presidents

The alternatives put forward are beautiful, meaningful, and harder to counterfeit, but the idea suffers from being merely an inspired and excellent idea with no political clout behind it.

The slave mongering, ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson will not be easy to dislodge just because of his distasteful acts. There have been quite a few historically significant Indians since Running Antelope walked on, but the best chance for what we might call Jackson Removal would be to make common cause with the women who have never been on the money and perhaps encourage African Americans to look into Jackson’s slave trading and ask themselves if all slave owners were equal.

The fact that Jackson himself would not have wanted to be on a Federal Reserve note should be a powerful argument, but even that historically correct position is unlikely to prevail unless the advocates of Jackson Removal can manage to speak in one voice.