Rosa Parks or Harriet Tubman, who’ll be on the ten?

Alexander Hamilton is out, Tubman, Parks, or maybe Sacagawea is in: Jack Lew announces a redesign for the ten-dollar bill.

Goodbye, Hamilton
Goodbye, Hamilton

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2015 — Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a redesign of the $10 bill for 2020: Alexander Hamilton’s portrait will be replaced with a woman’s.

There had been a push to put a woman on the nation’s paper currency. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea both appeared on dollar coins, but the last time a woman was on a bill was Martha Washington, whose portrait appeared on one-dollar silver certificates in the late 19th century.

Not all the portraits on American bills have been presidents, and George Washington is the only president whose image is required by law to be on the currency. In addition to Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, the other non-president currently on our bills is Benjamin Franklin, on the hundred. Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s treasury secretary, was on the $10,000 bill, which is no longer in circulation.

Because there is no tradition that says only men, only presidents, or only founding fathers be on the bills, there is no particular reason that a woman shouldn’t be included. The choice of the ten is odd, though. Hamilton was not only the first treasury secretary, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Treasury Department and a national currency, as well as one of the men who argued forcefully for our federal system of government and Constitution.

Andrew Jackson, on the other hand, is a controversial figure whose name carries the whiff of corruption. He was the man who presided over the rise of the “spoils system” in American politics. He owned a large number of slaves, fought the Seminoles in Florida in order to keep Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves (his brutality earned him the name “Sharp Knife” from the Indians) and both advocated and implemented a policy of removing Indians from their territories to reservations in Oklahoma.

There is an irony in Jackson’s presence on the twenty: He opposed the use of paper money, favoring the use of gold and silver.

The removal of Jackson from the currency would be an improvement; the removal of Hamilton is not. The earlier campaign to put a woman on the currency targeted the $20 bill, not the ten; why Lew chose the ten is not obvious.

The early front-runners for the redesigned ten include Susan B. Anthony, who was a pivotal figure in the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in 1820, and the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920. Because the redesign will be revealed in 2020, there would be a certain poetry to her selection.

Other often-mentioned possibilities include Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who introduced a bill to push Jackson off the twenty and put a woman there, said in a statement:

This announcement follows a tremendous grassroots movement that spread through the power of social media and good old fashioned word-of-mouth. While it might not be the twenty dollar bill, make no mistake, this is a historic announcement and a big step forward. Young girls across this country will soon be able to see an inspiring woman on the ten dollar bill who helped shape our country into what it is today and know that they too can grow up and do something great for their country.

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