Tubman on the $20 is a win/win/win, and “poetic justice.


The big history news today is the official announcement from the Treasury Department that Alexander Hamilton will remain on the $10 and won’t share it with anyone else, as was once proposed, and that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20. As far as I am concerned, this is a win/win/win. Hamilton (who built the Treasury Department from scratch) absolutely deserves to remain where he is, and should not have been made to share the space with anyone. I truly think we have the broadway musical to thank for this victory, so don’t tell me that pop cultural depictions of history do not matter. It is also a win because Harriet Tubman is the perfect choice for the first female on US currency. I have long described her to my students as “the bravest person in American history,” and her presence on the bill will be a constant reminder of how our nation has not always lived up to its ideals, and yet that uncommonly heroic people of all genders and races have often had to force them to do so. Lastly, it is a win that Jackson is coming off, not only because he was a slaveholder that fathered the Trail of Tears and defied the Supreme Court to do so, but also because he himself would have not approved of his image being placed on paper money (which he hated). Further, he loathed all banks, especially the 2nd National Bank (which was modeled on the first one created by Hamilton), so his presence on our paper currency was always highly ironic.  This decision was therefore the logical one on all counts, and really the only thing controversial about it is why it wasn’t seen as the logical choice from the very start when the discussion began about placing a woman on our currency.  But of all the news stories out today about this decision,  my favorite one points out the “poetic justice” of Tubman on the $20, not just because of all the reasons cited above, but also because the sum of $20 dollars played an important role in her life. How so? Check it out. 

Oh, and with Tubman in the news, I’d be remiss to not repost the brilliant Drunk History skit featuring her. Its pure gold, and I’ll always recall the day I showed it in class to very appreciative college students that laughed uproariously.  Enjoy.


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