American currency aficionados got quite the surprise when US Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew announced the replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Jackson is set to be replaced with Harriet Tubman, an 18th century slave-turned-Underground Railroad conductor. The announcement came as a surprise because Mr. Lew had previously stated that the remake of the $10 bill would feature a woman, and he explained the change in this announcement.
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Any considerable change in currency in a country so obsessed with it is sure to be met with a lot of opinions on the matter. After all, we’ve been trying to get rid of the penny for decades now and the arguments for its abolishment make a lot more sense than the arguments for keeping it (largely funded by the zinc industry). And yet, the US Mint makes more of them every year and many Americans are loath to change this.
It would stand to reason, then, that the replacement of a racist white slaveholder who was responsible for the annihilation of the Cherokee nation as well as many other Native American tribes with a freedom fighter on one of the most utilized pieces of currency in the world is going to be met with some harsh judgments. Critics largely cite that while Jackson is viewed historically in an unfavorable light, history is not Jackson versus Tubman, but Jackson and Tubman. Changing the currency doesn’t eliminate the past. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren called the change “dividing the country” and Donald Trump dismissed it as “pure political correctness”. For a brief time a story circulated about 60 members of the Ku Klux Klan committing mass suicide in protest, until it was soundly proclaimed a hoax (to be clear, it was published on a fictitious news site).
That said, the response to the change on the $20 bill -which will not be unveiled until 2020, at the earliest- has been overwhelmingly positive. The New York Times calls it “a welcome and overdue change”. Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, stated that, “For me, having Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill really says, first of all, that America realizes that it’s not the same country that it once was — that it’s a place where diversity matters. And it allows us to make a hero out of someone like Harriet Tubman, who deserves to be a hero.” Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were quick to approve of the decision. Reportedly, most conservatives also welcome the change.
Logically, the move makes sense. Jackson was ferociously, and famously, anti-banking and adamantly opposed paper currency. By contrast, Tubman was paid $20 in pension by the government for her work as a nurse, scout and cook, as well as war veteran’s wife. It seems rather appropriate that Tubman replace Jackson.
Still think Jackson should remain on the $20? Lew has stated that he will remain on the bill’s reverse, in some form, though he hasn’t stated exactly how as of yet. We’ll all just have to wait and see.