Whose Face Should be on the $20 Bill?

twenty-dollar bill

American currency is the strongest and most stable in the world, but it might also be the most homogenous.

While other nations’ currencies honor prominent men and women who have been explorers, scientists and artists, our currency primarily features military heroes and political leaders, all of whom were white males.

Well, a national organization wants to break up that “old boys’ club” and replace Andrew Jackson with a comparably important woman. What do you think? Should Jackson stay, or should he go? If he should go, who should replace him?

 

Jackson Should Stay

In many ways, Andrew Jackson embodied the American dream. A poor and uneducated child of Irish immigrants who was orphaned at 14, Jackson overcame hardships to become a prominent lawyer, a wealthy landowner and the first elected member of the House of Representatives from Tennessee.

In the War of 1812, Jackson led American forces that obliterated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, a victory that made him a national hero. From 1829 to 1837, Jackson served two terms as the seventh President of the United States.

Jackson Should Go

The images on our currency should represent the values and diversity of our nation.

Jackson falls short on both counts.

Jackson was hot-tempered and vindictive; he killed one man in a duel that originated in an alleged insult of Jackson’s wife. His great wealth was built on the hunched backs and harnessed torsos of slaves, whom he permitted to be whipped if they were not productive or obedient.

While president, Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which gave to his office the authority to purchase tribal lands in the southeast with land grants in the west. When the relocation was enforced, over 4,000 Cherokee men, women and children died on the “Trail of Tears” that led to their new lands.

Jackson Should be Replaced by…

If Jackson should be replaced, the question becomes, “With whom?”

In the spring, my students were asked to write an essay proposing who should be on the $20 bill. Two-thirds of the students proposed that Jackson should remain; one-third proposed that he should be replaced. The most popular candidates to replace Jackson were Martin Luther King (50%), Harriet Tubman (25%), Clara Barton (15%) and Eleanor Roosevelt (10%).

The national organization that brought this question before the public created a website that profiled numerous prominent women and encouraged visitors to vote for their choice to replace Jackson.

After over 600,000 votes were cast, Harriet Tubman with 118,328 votes edged out Eleanor Roosevelt with 111,227. Visit the website to learn more about Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and other women who have contributed so much to our nation.

Update

On June 22, the debate about whether or not a woman should replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill took an unexpected turn when Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury, announced that a woman would replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, instead.

As you know, Alexander Hamilton was the first treasury secretary and is widely considered to be the architect of the nation’s financial system. During the Revolution, he served as General George Washington’s chief aide.

After the war, Hamilton founded the Federalist Party and co-authored “The Federalist Papers,” one of the most influential and important works in the history of political discourse. You can read more about Hamilton’s many contributions to our country, as well as his death at the hands of Aaron Burr.

Several prominent figures derided Lew’s decision. Ben Bernanke, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, wrote in his blog for the Brookings Institution that:

Hamilton… would qualify as among the greatest of our founders for his contributions to achieving American independence and creating the Constitution alone. In addition to those accomplishments, however, Hamilton was without doubt the best and most foresighted economic policymaker in U.S. history.

What are your thoughts about this ongoing debate? Should a woman replace Jackson or Hamilton, or are there other alternatives that you would like to propose?

Love history? Want to earn your degree with a major in history? Visit Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences to learn about our programs.

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