Harriet Tubman is scheduled to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill in 2020. Americans around the nation will now be putting their germs on her face.
I’ve always thought of the $20 bill as the iconic American bill. It’s what the bank gives you by default when you take cash out, it’s a convenient amount of currency and it’s the most commonly counterfeited bill inside the country.
Now, who is on our currency is all about symbolism. There are no shortage of important Americans to choose from and only six faces get picked (not counting $2 bills). It’s not as if Grant is taking up space that someone more important could have (averages as our 36th best president in scholarly presidential rankings over the past 67 years).
First of all, who is Harriet Tubman and why was she picked? Beyond her being an Underground Railroad operator, I didn’t know much about her.
Obviously, Tubman is a black woman, so it was a strategic decision to cover two large groups of Americans that have been thus far neglected in our primary currency.
After escaping from slavery, Tubman returned to the south to help hundreds of slaves do the same. During the Civil War, she guided a Union navy/army operation, the Combahee Ferry Raid in 1863, to liberate 750 slaves along the South Carolina coastline, establishing a methodology for future similar operations.
So she’s an action hero. Washington and Jackson are also action heroes, but they, along with everyone else (except Grant) were also important to our government and/or economic policies.
Tubman was also influential in passing the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage), although she died in 1913, seven years before its ratification.
I’d say that being a leader in a movement that led to a voter increase of approximately 100 percent is substantial enough to our democracy to warrant being on money.
Although the word “democracy” doesn’t appear in the actual name of our form of government, its general usage is to describe nations with free elections that protect citizens’ rights, as measured by the Democratic Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. In 2015, 20 nations were ranked as full democracies, including the US (Constitutional Republic), the UK (Constitutional Monarchy), and Germany (Parliamentary Republic).
Now, Jackson isn’t going away entirely. He’s being moved to the back, which is ironic in an inappropriate way since he was a slave owner.
Jackson has been losing popularity in the public eye because of the Indian Removal Act. He also isn’t the most logical choice to go on paper money as he was against paper money and national banking.
Alexander Hamilton was initially slated to be replaced, but we can thank “Hamilton” the musical for teaching Americans that Hamilton was a person that did things. As our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, he helped create our financial system.
Coming back to the top, it’s a nice gesture to see more diversity on our money. The struggle of blacks and women to obtain equality is an enormous part of our culture, and it’s appropriate to recognize accomplishments over a century later.