Sharing faces on bills invalidates attempted progress

Sunny Kim

Last Wednesday when U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill, most rejoiced at the idea. Hillary Clinton tweeted, “I can’t think of a better choice for the $20 bill,” while Oprah said, “I love it…That is the choice for America.”

However, while Tubman will be replacing Jackson on the front of the bill, he will remain on the back, which is perversely ironic. A former slave owner, known for his cruelty against Native Americans, will be sharing the bill with former slave Harriet Tubman. Ultimately, Andrew Jackson doesn’t deserve to share the bill with Harriet Tubman because his infamous actions contradict Tubman’s accomplishments.

Andrew Jackson has been a polarizing figure for most people. Some see him as charismatic, fearless and bold, while others see him as stubborn, strict and quick-tempered. History professor Christopher Ernst argues that the public has divided opinions of Jackson because he only provided for poor white males.

“He is really a polarizing figure because people respect him for what he did for advancing and caring for the farmers on the frontier, while simultaneously doing nothing for the African Americans, [and] little if anything for women,” Ernst said.

Ernst also mentions that people like Jackson’s fierce personality, despite his deeply controversial past.

“He is also an uncompromising figure and I think Americans really like that,” Ernst said. “We don’t want Jeb Bush, we want Donald Trump. We don’t want Hillary Clinton, we want Bernie Sanders. They are popular because their messages are uncompromising.”

However, it’s these traits that led him to forcibly expel the Choctaws and Creeks from their ancestral home in order to claim lands for the poor white male pioneers. He ignored laws designed to negotiate with the Native Americans in a fair and peaceful manner, leading to  the deaths of thousands of Native Americans in the Trail of Tears. Jackson simply didn’t care about advancing rights for Native Americans, African- Americans or women.   

In contrast, Tubman risked her own life to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom through the underground railroad, which highlights her passion in fighting for the rights of enslaved people and women.

Interestingly, some such as Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, see Tubman’s appearance on the bill as an attack on the historical contributions of Jackson, a home-state hero. But wasn’t having Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill for the past 88 years enough recognition and praise for the former president?

History professor Robert Olwell said currency should change with the times to reflect modern ideals.

“Putting someone on money: That’s a contemporary choice,” Olwell said. “It’s not a historic artifact. We get to decide whose face is going to be on the money…so it’s a statement about us.”

Although the new twenty dollar bill won’t be in circulation until after 2020, we need to be wary of the results. Harriet Tubman fought for equality in times of inequality. She deserves the praise and recognition without Andrew Jackson to contradict her accomplishments.

Kim is a journalism freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @sunny_newsiee.