The Treasury is not simply executing its task of printing money for legal tender and updating its design to thwart counterfeiters. It is pursuing an ideological agenda outside of its authority.
In June, 2015, the Obama administration imposed its progressive vision when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a woman would replace the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. While very few Americans object to having important women on the nation’s currency, the Treasury is overreaching beyond its prerogatives which are guided by its broader progressive objectives.
There was an attempt over the past year to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill. This initiative failed prior to a new executive decision was made to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill. Both
Many of Hamilton’s supporters on the op-ed pages and blogs have wrongly taken the stand that Jackson should be dumped before Hamilton. Hamilton’s defenders have argued that Jackson is the unsavory character from American history who has to go.
Jackson was a slave owner who strongly supported the slave system of the South. He ordered the removal of the Cherokees that led to the tragic “Trail of Tears” resulting in the death of thousands of Native Americans. Even the wave of “Jacksonian democracy” that ushered in universal male suffrage has been criticized for not including women or African Americans. Finally, he vetoed the Second Bank of the United States and killed the institution.
But, savaging this war hero and president is not the best way to defend Alexander Hamilton and keep the founding father on the $10 bill. As we’ll see, the argument inadvertently buttresses the progressive view. Progressives want to get rid of the white men on the currency because they owned slaves, are perceived to be racists, or don’t pass similar litmus tests.
Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln would all fail these tests. Even the progressive New Dealer FDR (who is on the dime) failed to support an anti-lynching bill in Congress and would risk being removed according to the logic.
Instead of attacking Jackson and the others, supporters of Alexander Hamilton should defend him because of his merits. He was a successful immigrant who was a true rags-to-riches story. He rose on his merit to become Washington’s most trusted aide during the Revolutionary War. Hamilton continually argued for a stronger central government to replace the Articles of Confederation. He participated in the Constitutional Convention and played an even more important role in its ratification, writing most of the Federalist Papers and winning ratification in the key state of New York. He almost single-handedly started the American economy by establishing the national credit and creating the National Bank. At the risk of making it seem as if he passed a litmus test, Hamilton was a dedicated anti-slavery activist. During the American Revolution, he supported John Laurens’ plan to give slaves their freedom and arm them in South Carolina. Hamilton was also a founder of the New York Abolition Society.
The facts of his life support keeping Hamilton on the $10 bill but there is another issue. The attempt to replace Jackson and now Hamilton is part of a larger scheme of using executive agencies and departments to achieve certain progressive goals. In this case, the decision at the Treasury seemed motivated by an attempt to remove “dead white males” in favor of what Lew said were examples of “champion[s] for our inclusive democracy” such as Harriet Tubman.
When he introduced the controversial proposal to the public, Lew asserted that it would “make a statement about who we are and what we stand for.” He saw it as “an occasion to take stock of where we are as a nation and where we’re going.” The change in the money is his attempt to introduce a moment for intense self-reflection about whether or not Americans have always lived up to our “democratic values.”
The administration is trying to rectify past discrimination against minority groups with a symbolic change. The Treasury also wants to reverse previous failures to include women such as Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony on dollar coins which proved terribly unpopular and were quickly withdrawn. No one wanted to carry them because they looked too much like quarters or involved awkward situations at stores about whether they would be accepted. The only alternative left is to remove some great men from the paper currency.
The Treasury is not simply executing its task of printing money for legal tender and updating its design to thwart counterfeiters. It is pursuing an ideological agenda outside of its authority. The words of Representative Jeanne Shaheen, who introduced legislation in April to change the $10 bill, represents the agenda. “Young girls across this country will soon be able to see an inspiring woman on the ten dollar bill.” Girls apparently cannot be inspired by the actions and words of great men and need to see someone of the same sex on the money.
Now, the Treasury of the United States is somehow responsible for including images of inclusive democracy and ensuring that young people possess self-esteem. The noble attempt to honor great women for the wrong reasons has resulted in executive overreach.
Tony Williams is the author of five books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America.
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