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Is Hamilton in, and Jackson out, on U.S. currency?

April 18, 2016 by NCC Staff


The saga over adding a woman’s picture to a major American piece of currency could get a big twist this week, with reports that Alexander Hamilton will stay, Andrew Jackson will go, and women will be presented on two bills.

ahamilton1792Last June, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a five-year process to find the right woman, or women, to go on the new version of the $10 bill, replacing Hamilton, the father of the Treasury Department and one of the seminal Founding Fathers.

Lew soon walked back the idea that Hamilton was disappearing from the currency scene. Lew told The Wall Street Journal that Hamilton would play some role as an icon on Americans currency, but he wasn’t specific. “We made it clear that Alexander Hamilton will remain part of our currency,” Lew said. “He played such a formative role in establishing our economic system. We are proud to continue to plan on honoring Alexander Hamilton.”

While most people seem supportive of the addition of a woman to the face of the $10 bill, there was a chorus of criticism about Hamilton’s fate, with much of the focus on Andrew Jackson remaining on the $20 bill. Jackson’s critics pointed to parts of his presidential legacy, his treatment of American Indians, and his role as a slaveholder.

And there was the interesting historic fact that Jackson was deeply opposed to paper currency. In his March 1837 farewell address, Jackson made clear that his objections to paper currency were constitutional. “The Constitution of the United States unquestionably intended to secure to the people a circulating medium of gold and silver,” he said. “The establishment of a national bank by Congress, with the privilege of issuing paper money receivable in the payment of the public dues, and the unfortunate course of legislation in the several States upon the same subject, drove from general circulation the constitutional currency and substituted one of paper in its place.”

This weekend, CNN reported that Secretary Lew has had a change of heart, and we could find out this week that Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill, with an image saluting woman’s suffrage on its back. Replacing Jackson on the $20 bill will be a woman representing the struggle for racial equality.

One person who lobbied Lew to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star of Broadway’s hit musical, “Hamilton.” Miranda has met with Lew twice, once backstage on Broadway and second time in Washington when the play’s stars sung at the White House in March.

“The Secretary thanked Miranda for the ingenious way in which he has been able to tell Hamilton’s story and ignite a renewed interest in one of our nation’s founding fathers. Secretary Lew also reiterated his commitment to continue to honor Alexander Hamilton on the 10 dollar bill,” the Treasury Department said after the March meeting.

But not everyone is happy with the rumored changes.

“You’re not going to fix gender inequality by putting a woman on the face of the 10, but boy will you emphasize gender inequality by putting women on the back,” Jane Kamensky, director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University, told Time magazine recently.

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