Tubman replacing Jackson on the $20, Hamilton spared

April 20, 2016 in News by RBN Staff

 |  | 04/20/16 11:56 AM EDT

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reverses a plan to bump Hamilton after receiving fierce blowback.

Alexander Hamilton has been spared an ousting from the front of the $10 bill, and Andrew Jackson will instead be bumped from the $20 to make way for Harriet Tubman — a historic move that is helping quell a controversy over Hamilton’s legacy.

“Today, I’m excited to announce that for the first time in more than a century, the front of our currency will feature the portrait of a woman, Harriet Tubman, on the $20 note,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told reporters during a conference call Wednesday afternoon.

Lew also announced a set of changes that include putting leaders of the women’s suffrage movement on the back of the $10 bill and incorporating civil rights era leaders and other important moments in American history into the $5 bill.

Jackson will likely be displaced to the back of the $20 bill, but the move to print Tubman on the $20 bill is a reversal from Lew, who announced last summer that he was considering replacing Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman. The plan drew swift rebukes from fans of Hamilton, who helped create the Treasury Department and the modern American financial system. Critics immediately suggested Lew take Jackson off the $20 bill given the former president’s role in moving Native Americans off their land.

Lew told POLITICO last July that Treasury was exploring ways to respond to critics. “There are a number of options of how we can resolve this,” Lew said. “We’re not taking Alexander Hamilton off our currency.”

Supporters of putting a woman on the $10 bill have complained that it will take too long for the $20 bill to come up for a redesign. But people familiar with the matter said new designs for the bills should be ready by 2020. Treasury is likely to ask the Federal Reserve, which makes the final decision, to expedite the process and get the bills into circulation as quickly as possible.

The movement to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill gathered strength after the Broadway musical named after the former Treasury secretary and founding father became a smash hit.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda even directly lobbied Lew last month on Hamilton’s behalf, after which Miranda said Lew told him “you’re going to be very happy” with the redesign plan.

Reaction to Tubman, a Civil War-era abolitionist, replacing Jackson on the front of the $20 was widely positive. Democratic presidential candidates hailed Treasury’s decision.

“A woman, a leader, and a freedom fighter,” Hillary Clinton tweeted. “I can’t think of a better choice for the $20 bill than Harriet Tubman.”

Bernie Sanders concurred, tweeting roughly 30 minutes later that he “cannot think of an American hero more deserving of this honor than Harriet Tubman.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) tweeted that it was “great news!” “Tubman on $20 is the right call,” she added. “The redesign needs to happen as soon as possible. Women have waited long enough.”

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who introduced the “Put a Woman on the Twenty Act in Congress” last year, also commended the decision Wednesday.

“There has been a lot of talk about putting a woman’s portrait on our money, but finally it sounds like Secretary Lew is putting our money where his mouth is,” Gutiérrez said in a prepared statement. “It is crazy that women have been mostly absent from our money up until now, with only a few exceptions.”

Conservatives also supported the selection of Tubman for the $20 bill. National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke tweeted: “Given the sheer number of blows that Tubman struck for liberty, she belongs on the currency more than most. Good choice.”

Former Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, however, expressed his love for Tubman and what she accomplished but suggested that placing her on the $2 bill would be a more appropriate honor.

Immediately after Lew announced he might move Hamilton off the $10 in favor of a woman, many historians criticized the move and suggested Jackson was a far better candidate for removal. At the time, Treasury said it would take too long to change the $20.

But Lew has now reversed course, earning widespread praise among history buffs.

“[Hamilton] is fully appropriate to be on American currency, whereas Jackson was a scoundrel, a slave holder and a white supremacist who was involved in the removal of Indians and was completely opposed to paper money and was horrible to women,” said Kari Winter, director of the gender institute at the University at Buffalo.

Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.