Replacing Hamilton instead of Jackson on our currency makes the wrong kind of sense

On Wednesday night, news broke that the Treasury will be replacing Alexander Hamilton with an as-yet unnamed woman on the $10 bill by 2020. The switch will mark the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. There had been a growing call for a woman to appear on currency, but proponents of the change had been calling for Andrew Jackson, not Hamilton, to be the figure replaced. Senator Jeanne Shaheen had even introduced legislation to that effect earlier this year.

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew has until the end of the year to select Hamilton’s female replacement, and the administration is soliciting suggestions from the public.

Jackson had been thought to be a more acceptable pick to be replaced given how poorly his reputation has fared since his death. As president, he is perhaps best known for the Trail of Tears, a forced migration of Native Americans that killed as many as six thousand people, and the practice of selecting public officials via the “spoils system.” He was also censured by the Senate during his time in office for removing all of the country’s deposits from the Bank of the United States after vetoing its renewal, making him an odd choice for preferential treatment from the U.S. Treasury.

Jackson’s legacy makes him a far more appropriate candidate for removal than any of the other figures who appear on our paper currency. As Alexandra Petri wrote in The Washington Post:

What cretin decided to make Hamilton go and let Andrew Jackson stay? Andrew “Indian Removal Act” Jackson? Andrew “Literally Murdered A Guy” Jackson? Andrew “Who cares what the Supreme Court rules” Jackson? Andrew “The Coolest Thing I Did As President Was Throw A Giant Cheese-Themed Houseparty” Jackson? He gets to stay? Look, I’ve thrown giant cheese-themed parties. I don’t belong on any currency. And, unlike Jackson, I had no responsibility for the Trail of Tears.

Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, via Wikimedia Commons

And it’s not like Jackson has a ton of competition for “Worst Person on American Paper Money.” Think through the people other than Jackson who are on our various denominations of dollar bills: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Grant and Franklin. The next-best case for removal would probably be Grant, who led the Union Army in the Civil War but whose presidency was rife with corruption and mediocrity. Not great, but not awful, either. And honestly, why would we bother going to the trouble to replace Grant when almost no one actually uses $50 bills? If we’re only going to have one woman on our currency, they should be on the bills that everyone sees every time they take money out of an ATM.

But apparently, it isn’t that simple.

According to Lew, the decision to replace Hamilton has nothing to do with history and everything to do with logistics. The $20 bill was redesigned more recently than the $10, which had already been reported as next in line for an upgrade. So there’s no way around it: Apparently, we have to replace Hamilton, even though he’s basically the reason why the Treasury exists in the first place.

Of course, if frugality were the deciding factor for the rest of our currency, we would have ditched the penny a long time ago. After all, it costs two cents to make each of our one-cent coins. We could ditch the penny and pay for whatever extra logistical lift would be associated with replacing Jackson instead of Hamilton. Or, if we really must change the ten, we could let the existing change go as planned and then replace Jackson with Hamilton. And we already have Lincoln on our money, so it isn’t as if we’d be committing the same kind of historical crime that we are by scrubbing Hamilton and leaving Jackson as-is.

The changes we make to our currency are going to last for a very long time. Hamilton has been on the $10 bill since 1929, and Jackson has been on the $20 even longer — since 1926. Making the right call on long-term decisions like these is worth a little extra money.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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30 Responses to “Replacing Hamilton instead of Jackson on our currency makes the wrong kind of sense”

  1. Skye Winspur says:

    Yes, Shirley Chisholm would be a great choice. It would be an illustrious Democrat on the 10 coupled with a very questionable one on the 20: a nice balance with two Republicans on the 5 and the 50, for those who really care about such things.

  2. dcinsider says:

    I’ve been secretly hoping that they pick Laura Bush for this honor, but I sense I’m in the minority.

  3. LanceThruster says:

    Agree entirely. Jackson’s gotta go.

  4. bkmn says:

    Can we finally get bills that are a bit friendlier to the sight-impaired? Most countries have some kind of tactile marker on the bills so the blind can know what bills they have.

  5. Rick B says:

    We will just have to start handing the strippers coin purses. What do they do in Great Britain since the Pound bill was replaced by coins?

  6. emjayay says:

    Queen Elizabeth = All Women.

  7. emjayay says:

    They probably prefer five dollar bills anyway.

  8. emjayay says:

    Yes. Nickels and pennies make no sense. Dollar coins would be cheaper, last 20 times longer, and save businesses money in counting. England has pound ($1.50) and two pound ($3) coins. Canada has one and two dollar coins, worth around the same as our dollars.
    This would be a simple non-ideological cost saving thing for Obama to do. It would show that the president is practical and realistic. Too much upsetting the applecart for him I suppose. Probably needs an act of Congress? The only arguments against this are Because It’s Always Been That Way, and is in the Bible or something.

  9. Hue-Man says:

    From a nearby country. There has been almost zero reaction to the disappearance of the penny. Cash transactions are rounded up (.03,.04) or down (.01,.02) while credit and debit cards include the pennies. The nickel would be hard to kill because it shows the national rodent, the beaver. The 50-cent piece is rarely in circulation. There is talk of a $5 coin to replace the note and join the $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie) coins. Almost all paper notes are out of circulation, replaced with polymer (plastic). It’s not clear in the image but the “stripe” through the new bills on the left is a clear plastic window which includes additional security features.

    Canadian currency also has a problem with women and with ethnic Canadians.

    “Former [Bank of Canada] governor Mark Carney apologized to Canadians in August 2012 when it was revealed the bank had erased the Asian features of a female scientist featured on prototypes of the new $100 plastic banknote, after focus groups raised questions about her ethnicity.”

    “The current series of polymer banknotes feature no famous Canadian women, though the Queen’s image is on all denominations. The previous series included images of the Famous Five, who fought for women’s rights in Canada, and Therese Casgrain, a Quebec feminist. But they were all replaced on the new $50 note by an image of an icebreaker.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/bank-of-canada-still-not-committed-to-women-on-currency-petition-says-1.2795349

  10. therling says:

    Maybe we ought to go in the opposite direction. Instead of putting our better figures of American heritage on the currency, let’s put on the worst. GW Bush on the twenty, for example, so that every time you fill up the tank, it would remind you of how many trillions were wasted during his tenure to ensure our fuel supply. Let’s put Nixon on the ten, to remind us how power corrupts. With Buchanan on the five, we’d never forget how ineptitude in public office leads to disaster. Oh, and let’s issue a three-dollar bill with Reagan’s mug on it, as in “phony as a….”

  11. Bookbinder says:

    Actually, the $50 is in wide circulation. My ATM distributes them. Agree with you about Jackson but then Hamilton was not a President, nor would, at this point would any woman. Jackson should go. Hamilton should stay (someplace) but a woman should be on the $10 as it is the non-presidential bill, so I have no problem with it being shared by Hamilton and someone else worthy of honor, maybe on a rotating basis. Of course, all of this only gets us closer to having us be forced to look at a bill with a portrait of that bastard Reagan, whose AIDS policies killed so many of us and our most dearly beloved.

  12. nicho says:

    Did you ever try to drop coins into a stripper’s G-string? Ain’t no stripper going to stand for that. If our Congress represents anyone it’s strippers.

  13. 2patricius2 says:

    Why not have a variety of people on all the currency? Some women, some men. We have quarters with different state symbols and symbols of national parks on them. We have dollar coins with presidents and women. Lets have ones, and tens and twenties, etc. – each denomination with a variety of women and men.

  14. 2karmanot says:

    Oh yeah, that works.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    Zombie vampires. I think it might be wise to seek out Thor just in case they attack.

  16. 2karmanot says:

    Yep, and if those new coins turn our palms green we will know their true worth. :-)

  17. 2karmanot says:

    I understand Sara Palin and Bachman have inquired, if as zombies, they might apply for consideration.

  18. 2karmanot says:

    I vote for Sally Standford….they don’t make em like that anymore!

  19. nicho says:

    Or why not just famous prostitutes? Given our current government, that would be fitting.

  20. BeccaM says:

    I’ve long been of the opinion that there really is no point in cents, and that the dime ($.10) should be the smallest division of U.S. currency.

    If we’re gonna have coins, there should be just three: The dime, a new half-dollar, and a properly designed dollar coin — with dollar bills eliminated. The Sacajawea coin isn’t bad, but could be better…for one thing, people have complained it is too heavy — but it’s only that way because its weight needs to be unique versus all the other coins. (The Susan B. Anthony dollar was a joke… “Hey, let’s make a dollar coin that is almost indistinguishable from a quarter!”) The main reason the SD didn’t take over is because the paper dollar bills weren’t withdrawn from circulation as they should’ve been, but the second was that once again, the dollar coin was too similar to the quarter.

    But yeah… Andrew Jackson was a nasty bastard and I’ve never liked seeing him on the $20, which since the 1980s-ish has become our de facto standard of the currency most people are likely to have on them at any given time.

    Personally, my vote is for Harriet Tubman. Or Shirley Chisholm.

    What would be even better though? Take people off the money. American currency remains some of the ugliest in the world.

  21. Indigo says:

    I wrote a rant on the uselessness of the word “logistical” but it go out of hand. Suffice it to say, when I see an authority explaining that a decision was taken for “logistical” reasons, I hear them saying that they refuse to reconsider their painfully obvious mistake because they don’t want to take responsibility for the mistake.

  22. Indigo says:

    Logistics. Oh, we Floridiots are authorities on logistics. Why just two years ago, the highway board reworked the intersection of the east-west in Orlando with the north-south interstate. It was a logistical decision that was supposed to remedy a traffic bottle-neck on the east-west. A few months ago, Ultimate I-4 construction began for logistical reasons to rework 27 miles of l-4 from north of Orlando sprawl to south of Orlando sprawl. “Ultimate” because all the logistical problems up and down the interstate will be resolved. The project is scheduled for completion in the year 2020.

    Since there are numerous intersections that have to be redone in order to accommodate all these logistical improvements, including re-working the recently re-worked intersection with the east-west, which continues to have logistical problems with bottle-necking, widening the interstate, and installing express toll lanes down the middle between the existing lanes, the work has begin. Now for logisticalreasons, the avenues of oak trees that line the interstate for noise control and beautification, have been ripped out. There’s your logistical progress, the uglification of Orlando ground transportation.

    So when the Treasury Department explains that they’re replacing their founder with a woman, they’re addressing political correctness concerns in a contemptuous manner for logistical reasons. And for additional logistical reasons, they’re successfully expressing their contempt for any number of groups who are concerned that Andrew Jackson is commemorated in any form. We need to step back, contemplate all this logistical fol-de-rol, and be grateful that Jefferson Davis is not on the dollar bill.

    Clearly, the word “logistical” has no meaning beyond a coverup for laziness, ineffectual governance, and contempt for the public.

  23. Bill_Perdue says:

    Men depicted on the currency should be replaced by women like Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Emma Goldman, Mary Harris (Mother Jones), Jane Adams, Rosa Parks, Dolores Huerta and thousands more. Men like Thomas Paine, Tecumseh, Frederick Douglass and Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and EV Debs would also be fine. I guess we’ll just have to wait until we get a real government.

  24. Bill_Perdue says:

    And Soros. How long before the Clintons claw their way up from the 1% to the .1%?

  25. nicho says:

    Why not just be honest and put the Koch Brothers on the currency? After all, they pretty much own the government at this point. So, let’s just cut to the chase. Maybe Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein too. Why keep on pretending?

  26. emjayay says:

    We should not just dump the penny (obviously) but also think about the nickel. And the dollar bill should be eliminated and dollar and two dollar coins introduced instead. All these would save the government and business tons of money a year. And there is a country nearby somewhere with similarly denominated money that has shown the way some time ago.

    This is really a no-brainer. It’s the kind of thing Obama should have gone for years ago as an obvious symbol of doing simple things that increase efficiency and save money. Besides it just making total common sense with no drawbacks except for right wingers screaming about how it’s socialism or something and will immediately make the sky fall. Like ending DADT.

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