Treasury Secretary Jack Lew just announced he won’t boot Alexander Hamilton from the the $10 bill. Instead, the Treasury will replace Andrew Jackson, who is currently the face of the $20, with Harriet Tubman, because feminism, or whatever.
To be clear, I’m not upset about the decision to feature Tubman on our currency. She is one of the most amazing Americans who has ever lived. Throughout her lifetime, she made 19 dangerous trips to the South to help more than 300 slaves escape to freedom, while risking her own life to do so. During the Civil War, she helped the Union’s cause by volunteering as a chef, nurse, and a spy.
As my colleague Mollie Hemingway pointed out, Tubman was quite a gal.
She was a devout Christian whose faith informed her belief that all humans, regardless of color, creed, or age, had a right to life and the freedom to live it as they chose. That Christian faith formed the foundation of the abolition movement of which she was a significant part. She believed in the Second Amendment and the right to defend oneself with force, if necessary.
In short, Tubman was a badass, and her accomplishments deserve to be celebrated and remembered. However, I have a hard time believing that the Treasury was solely motivated by her courageous legacy in making this decision.
The move to feature Tubman’s face on the $20 should be looked at in the context of the Hamilton controversy. Last year, Lew announced he would remove Hamilton from the $10 and replace it with that of “a woman” — seriously, “Any woman will do” is what he may as well have said.
So, what saved Hamilton from being dethroned from his place on the $10 bill? Was it because he was the first secretary of the Treasury? The role he played in the founding of our country? His contributions to The Federalist Papers or his perhaps his distinguished tenure as a U.S. senator?
Nope. It was a hit Broadway musical that did the trick. As a friend of mine put it here, it’s kind of absurd that it took a musical to finally get Lew to come to his senses.
The same man who was dissuaded from his attempt to paper over an icon of American history was driven not by logic, nor common sense, nor a firm grasp of history, but by passionate thespians.
If Hamilton’s accomplishments and historical legacy weren’t enough to stop Lew from seeking to strip him from our money, why should we believe that Tubman’s heroic feats are driving his decision to put her on the $20 bill?
It seems this isn’t really about Tubman at all. Rather, she is is being used to fulfill the desires of a man’s desperate attempts to make paper currency seem relevant again. Lew’s obsession with removing a male figure from a bill to replace him with “a woman” has just shifted from one denomination of currency to another.
Forgive me if I have a hard time believing this same guy has any intention of ensuring that the historical contributions of women are properly remembered. I’m just not buying it.