Changes To The $20
It appears some conservatives are upset that Andrew Jackson is being kicked off
the front of the $20 and will be replaced by Harriet Tubman. I believe that the
Treasury Department should try to bring everyone together. England has an old
queen that everyone loves on their currency and no one whines about it. They seem
pretty happy. It is why America needs their own old queen that everyone loves on
our greenbacks. I nominate Atlanta’s old queen, Elton John. Whose day would not be
brighter with Elton John peering back at us on our money? We might trust in God,
but Elton makes us want to crocodile rock.
But seriously, how racist or just naturally angry at the world do you have to be to
get worked up that Harriet Tubman is replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the
$20? It is not like he is off the bill completely. The Treasury Department did not kick
him to the curb completely. Like any good slave owner, he’ll be on the backside of a
former slave. (Sorry folks, too easy of a joke to make.) I guess white people are not
used to being bumped to the back of anything.
I personally could care less. You could put Bozo the Clown swapping spit with
Betty Boop on the front of the $20 and Bo and Luke Duke in the General Lee leaping
a washed out bridge on the back and, if the cashier at the store takes it, I would be
fine with it.
In an age where debit cards and whatever smart phone app is quickly replacing
cash, Andrew Jackson’s demotion is hitting a lot of old white people hard. Granted,
they could maybe only spit out two or three facts regarding Old Hickory, Jackson’s
nickname. Can YOU name why Jackson is so famous? Maybe it was his victory over
the British at the Battle of New Orleans after the War of 1812 had already been over.
Possibly they could name the Trail of Tears. Thousands of peaceful Native
Americans died when they were illegally removed from their homes and forcibly
marched to Oklahoma. Nobody should be forced to live in Oklahoma. Most of this
happened under his successor, Martin Van Buren.
Maybe it is the fact that most Americans were taught history in high school by
thousands of different teachers with the same first name, Coach. If it was not for
movies, television and pop culture, most Americans would probably not know a
thing about our past. Not since 1953 has there been a major motion picture on
Jackson’s life and almost as long since Johnny Horton crooned about Old Hickory’s
victory at New Orleans. One would think that if having him on the $20 was so
earthshakingly important the average American would know a bit more about his
But then again, if Americans knew their own history, the people screaming about
Jackson being removed from the front of the bill would also probably know that he
had not always been on the $20. He replaced Grover Cleveland, no not the puppet on
Sesame Street, but the former president. Yes, we had a president named Grover.
Grover Cleveland’s main claim to fame? He had a cool mustache, wasn’t nearly as fat
was William Howard Taft, and had a child out of wedlock. He was basically Bill
Clinton a century before Bill Clinton was slipping and falling on interns. The main
difference, Cleveland married one of his cuddle bunnies when he was in the White
House. He was 49 and she was 21, the youngest First Lady in this nation’s history,
when they got married during his first term. Other than that, he is the only president
to serve two non-concurrent terms and there is a great story regarding how he
disappeared for five days to have a secret surgery on a yacht to remove a cancerous
tumor from the roof of his mouth while in office. Not exactly the kind of
inspirational stuff to merit putting him on our money.
Before Jackson and Cleveland; George Washington, John Marshall (Who? A
Supreme Court justice.), Daniel Manning (Who? Not the Kansas basketball player,
but the 37
Secretary of the Treasury.), Hugh McCulloch (Who? Another Secretary of
the Treasury.), Stephen Decatur (Who? A naval war hero.), James Garfield (Who?
Not the lasagna-loving cartoon cat, but another minor president whose main claim
to fame is he got assassinated), Alexander Hamilton, an eagle, and Lady Liberty all
graced the front of $20s at one time or another. What is the only difference between
their replacements and Jackson’s? We have not changed the $20 for a few decades.
If we knew our history better, Americans would probably wryly smile that Andrew
Jackson was placed on the $20 in the first place, an honor he would not have liked.
Much like the Oklahoma City airport being named after Will Rogers, a man who died
in an airplane accident, the monument of the Crazy Horse, a warrior that fought his
entire life to keep white people out of the Black Hills, being carved in the Black Hills
to draw in white tourists, and the Massachusetts State House that has an entrance
named after Civil War General Joseph Hooker called the General Hooker Entrance
that state lawmakers walk through on their way to work, Andrew Jackson being on
our currency is a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. He was not a fan of the central
federal bank, or the devil’s Bank as he called it, which he smashed upon coming into
office because he felt it was only there to help the wealthy and hurt average
Americans. This action probably led to the depression known as the Panic of 1837. I
am sure if Andrew Jackson could speak today he would tell conservatives the
biggest honor they could pay him is to remove his likeness from our currency.
Andrew Jackson was a mercurial tempered, bombastic, argumentative gentleman
who never met an occasion that could not be made better by a gun being pulled.
Okay, maybe I grasp why conservatives are so angry about his removal from the
$20. Not only was he a war hero, he was involved in anywhere between ten and a
hundred duels, most of which ended with both participants firing their guns in the
air, although Jackson did carry a bullet in his chest for most of his life from one of
these duels. He lived in a very black-and-white world that often caused him to come
into conflict with his own supporters. He did some great things and some things that
it would be hard for anyone to see as anything but horrible, which is why some
people see his removal from the $20 as another example of political correctness run
If you see the world in black-and-white, you miss the nuances in life. We are
coming up on the centennial of one of the most important events in the history of
this nation, women gaining the right to vote. It took a century-and-a-half for the
American people to realize that those wonderful words “all men are created equal”
also included women. All of my great-grandmothers were born into a world where
they were considered second-class citizens, not worth enough to have a voice in
who represented them in the government.
It would be hard to argue that women going to the polls did not transform the
twentieth century. Politicians, in order to garner their votes, had to address their
concerns and issues. The progressive moment, the New Deal, Social Security, child
labor laws, and almost every law that transformed Americans lives for the better
can be traced to women being allowed to claim their full rights as citizens.
The Treasury Department wanted to honor this transformational moment. Rather
than invent another coin that no one wants to use, what would be better than to
show this equality than putting heroic females on the currency people use. Trying to
get the public involved, they came up with a list of twenty women that have
impacted American history and let people vote on it. (One of the women on the list
was Wilma Mankiller. Can you imagine how conservatives would have flipped out if
someone named Mankiller made it on our money? I am pretty sure they think that is
Hillary Clinton’s middle name.) Harriet Tubman, who helped over 300 slaves to
freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and performed heroically
during the Civil War, received the most votes. She truly is the American Moses.
One can see Jackson’s demotion as political correctness, but it is rather a
celebration of the most important American principle, “all men are created equal.”
Harriet Tubman’s very life was the embodiment of this ideal, even when the rest of
America struggled with the notion. Even after the Civil War, where blood had to be
shed to recognize that African-Americans were fully human, she was a vocal
proponent for women’s suffrage. Although I doubt she could crocodile rock.