Time for a woman on U.S. currency, but how?

 Harriet Tubman on a $20?  (Image via WomenOn20s.org)

Harriet Tubman on a $20? (Image via WomenOn20s.org)

There’s a growing consensus that it’s time for a woman to appear on U.S. currency, but there’s been no agreement on how that should happen.

We’re not likely to replace George Washington on the $1 bill, or Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill, or Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, or Ben Franklin on the $100 bill. Ulysses S. Grant should be kept on the $50 bill, not because he was a particularly outstanding president, but because he was a great military leader who literally saved the country during the Civil War, enabling the emancipation of American slaves and setting the country on a new path. His presence on U.S. currency is a necessary reminder of the valor and sacrifice of American soldiers and sailors in defense of the Union.

So that leaves Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. An organization called Women On 20s has been effectively lobbying to replace Andrew Jackson with a woman. Its supporters have noted that Jackson was not only a slave owner like other early presidents, but he was directly responsible for the cynical and cruel forcible removal of Native Americans from the eastern United States in violation of their treaty rights. And he was an opponent of federal government involvement in banking and the issuance of paper currency.

But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says that the Treasury Department has a regular schedule for the redesign of U.S. currency to combat constantly improving efforts at counterfeiting. And the $10 bill is next in line for a redesign, which could lend itself to replacing Alexander Hamilton with a woman.

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Defenders of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 have noted the first Treasury Secretary’s critical role in establishing the new republic and particularly his advocacy of a strong central government with control over banking and currency. A new biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow has added to the appreciation for the unique contributions of this founding father, who was an early opponent of slavery.

So what to do? Replace Hamilton and leave Jackson on the $20? No. Here’s my solution:

Replace Hamilton on the $10 with a woman. My choice would be Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth, for their resistance to slavery and their fight for a more inclusive American democracy. But at the same time commit to replacing Jackson on the $20 with Alexander Hamilton when that bill is next scheduled for redesign. Problem solved!

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