The greatest year in the real and mythical life of Alexander Hamilton just got better.
On Wednesday, two days after the Broadway smash “Hamilton” won the Pulitzer Prize, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that a woman will not replace the face of the founding father and treasury secretary for President George Washington on the $10 bill.
Instead, the revered $20 bill will swap out the face of Andrew Jackson for Harriet Tubman, a former slave and the renowned conductor of the Underground Railroad. And Martin Luther King Jr. will be depicted in some way — perhaps in a group portrait — on the back of the $5 bill.
"When I announced last June that a newly redesigned $10 note would feature a woman, I hoped to encourage a national conversation about women in our democracy," Lew said in an open letter Wednesday afternoon. "The response has been powerful. You and your fellow citizens from across the country have made your voices heard through town hall discussions and round-table conversations, and with more than a million responses via mail and email, and through handwritten notes, tweets, and social media posts."
When images of the new $20 bills debut in 2020 – a century after the suffrage movement and the passage of the 19th Amendment — Tubman will be the first African-American to ever appear on U.S. currency, and the third woman. (Jackson, and an image of the White House, will move to the back.)
According to the U.S. Mint, Martha Washington appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and on the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896. Pocahontas was featured on the $20 in the 1800s as part of a group portrait.
"The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old," Lew said. "I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy."
The back of a revamped $5 bill — which features Abraham Lincoln on the front — will mark key events at the Lincoln Memorial, including Marian Anderson's 1939 performance, which was supported by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Outcry to save Hamilton
Back to the $10 bill, Lew announced that while Hamilton will remain on the front, the back will include an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department and honor the leaders of the suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.
Last summer, Lew announced that he was considering replacing Hamilton’s image on the $10 bill with that of a woman. As part of the Treasury’s redesign of bills to make them harder to counterfeit, the $10 bill is actually next in line.
But at the outset, critics voiced outrage at the possibility of replacing Hamilton, citing the fact that he was one of the creators of the Treasury Department and the modern American financial system. At the same time Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” took Broadway and the world by storm as one of the hottest musicals ever.
Instead, they said, Jackson should be replaced on the $20 bill.
Lew said the $10 bill is still scheduled to go into circulation next, but he has directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to work closely with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes.
Jackson's controversial reputation
The momentum to get Tubman on the $20 bill started in 2015, when a group called “Women on 20s” launched a campaign to get a woman placed on the bill.
In May of 2015, they delivered a petition to the White House urging President Barack Obama to consider replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 with the image of the former slave.
In an online poll, Tubman beat such luminaries as Rosa Parks, who sparked the beginning of the modern civil rights movement; Eleanor Roosevelt; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The seventh president has a controversial reputation for his role in moving Native Americans off their land in the 1800s and as a slave owner.
Mankiller’s selection would have been ironic considering that Jackson was a forceful proponent of Indian removal. His Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized him to negotiate with southern Indian tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their ancestral homelands.
Earlier in his career as a military commander, Jackson was known to have slaughtered thousands of Native Americans.
But there are stronger ironies in Jackson’s story.
He was placed on the $20 bill in 1928, although he strongly opposed the use of paper currency. Jackson also owned hundreds of slaves who worked on the Hermitage plantation in Nashville. He was considered in some quarters as a “humane,” slave owner, because he allowed his slaves to hunt for food and fish. But he also beat them, posted advertisements for the recapture of runaways and was well, a slaver.
Escape to freedom
Tubman was not one of Jackson's slaves, but she was born in bondage on a large Maryland plantation around 1822. She was sickly and rebellious enough to run away several times, only to be recaptured and beaten.
She escaped for good in 1849.
But she would spend most of the remainder of her life returning to the South to help captured slaves escape. Known as “Moses,” she was one of the primary conductors of the Underground Railroad, and helped free hundreds of former slaves.
During the Civil War, she worked for the Union as a nurse and scout.
After the war and until her death in 1913, Tubman received a pension for her service in the war.
Every month, Tubman got $20.
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