- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stung by a feverish outcry, the Treasury Department on Wednesday ditched its plan to oust Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill and instead will demote former President Andrew Jackson from the front of the $20 — part of a massive redesign that will add images of women’s and black history to the nation’s currency.

Harriet Tubman, the hero of the Underground Railroad, will take Jackson’s place on the $20 bill. Meanwhile, the back side of the $10 bill will highlight the women’s suffrage movement, and the $5 note, which has Abraham Lincoln on the front, will have additional civil rights images with the picture of the Lincoln Memorial on the back.

The department’s announcement Wednesday is a major victory for Hamilton fans, who rallied around the nation’s first Treasury secretary, and a retreat for Jack Lew, the man who currently holds that Cabinet post.

“I hoped it would encourage a national conversation about women in our democracy, and the response has been powerful,” a chastened Mr. Lew said Wednesday.

He announced last year that he was shunting aside Hamilton in favor of a woman and called for suggestions from the public about who that woman should be. Instead, he got an earful from Hamilton defenders who told him to lay off the $10 and take a look at the $20 instead.

His solution was to go big, altering the $5, $10 and $20 to add historical images to each of them. But he still needed a place to put a woman on the front of a bill, and that meant Jackson had to go.

Jackson supporters were blindsided by the news.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” said Howard J. Kittell, president and CEO of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the former president’s historic mansion in Tennessee. Mr. Kittell said Jackson is being unfairly judged by 21st-century values, but he was a man of his times, not an outlier.

“We feel like he needs to be studied and considered because he so represents us. He represents the common man, he represents the promise of America, really, that you can come from humble beginnings and with hard work, faith, anything is achievable,” Mr. Kittell said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, objected to pitting Jackson against Tubman, calling both “heroes of a nation’s work in progress.”

Tubman was one of myriad women suggested over the past 10 months as Mr. Lew searched for the right woman to earn a spot on the front of a bill, but her selection Wednesday proved a tremendously popular choice on all sides.

Born into slavery in Maryland, she escaped and then began to help other slaves using the Underground Railroad, the network of safe houses designed to help smuggle slaves into free states. During the Civil War, she served as a Union scout and nurse, and in her later years she joined the women’s suffrage movement.

Advocates said it was fitting that she would replace Jackson, who has been a target for years. Critics point out his history as a slaveholder and his treatment of American Indians.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill Johnson Baker said ousting Jackson was a “small but meaningful vindication” for thousands of Cherokee, who on the president’s watch were ousted from their homeland and forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma. A quarter of the population died from the journey, the chief said.

Jackson’s legacy was never one to be celebrated, and his image on our currency is a constant reminder of his crimes against natives,” he said. “It’s been an insult to our people and to our ancestors, thousands of whom died of starvation and exposure and now lie in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears.”

Mr. Lew said Jackson will remain in some form on the back of the $20 bill. He said that side currently includes an image of the White House, and a statue of Jackson sits in Lafayette Park across the street from the mansion, so that could be worked into the design.

“Andrew Jackson was a president who really opened the White House to the American people and had a lasting impact on our country, and we are going to continue to have his image, as we said, on the reverse of the $20,” Mr. Lew said.

Jackson led the defense of New Orleans in the War of 1812. As president, he pioneered the political spoils system and helped shape the Democratic Party. State and local Democratic Party affiliates commemorate him by naming their annual fundraising dinners after him and Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Kittell said Jackson was controversial in his own time, estimating that about two-thirds of the public loved him and the other third reviled him — particularly the establishment plantation owners in Virginia and the wealthy families of New England who controlled politics in the decades after the Revolutionary War.

“Up until maybe the last generation, or since the 1960s, Jackson by and large was held in great esteem as a very dynamic leader who changed the country, who expanded our sense of democracy, of a more participatory government,” Mr. Kittell said.

“He was not part of the Washington elite, he was not part of the people who up until that part had run the government. He was this everyday guy, largely self-taught, who through the support of a broad cross-section of Americans got elected,” he said.

Some Jackson critics said it made no sense to have his image on a bill in the first place because he opposed paper currency.

Mr. Kittell, though, said that was also a matter of the context of his time. The federal government issued only coins, while paper money was issued by banks and states — and was considered speculative. Jackson himself lost money by holding paper bills.

As for the modern money, Mr. Lew’s do-over decision complicates the schedule.

Because of currency security issues, the $10 bill will be redesigned and released first, in 2020 — in time for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women in all states the right to vote.

If Mr. Lew had stuck to his guns on the $10, a woman would have graced it in time for the celebration. Now, Tubman will miss the anniversary and will have to wait until the $20 gets its makeover.

Mr. Lew said he has asked the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Federal Reserve, which cooperate on issuing currency, to try to speed the $20 and $5 redesigns. But he couldn’t say how long that would take because security technology needs to be developed before the $20 bill can be rolled out.

Women on 20s, a group that pushed for Jackson to be replaced with a woman, had been afraid of the delay but said Wednesday that Mr. Lew’s attempt to speed up production, and to add women to other bills, was great news.

“It’s high time to get the party started,” said Barbara Ortiz Howard, founder of the group.

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