Last week's surprise announcement that the portrait of Hamilton on the U.S. $10 bill would be removed to make room for a
yet-to-be-chosen woman's portrait generated a lot of interest and controversy. Several commentators have argued in favor of keeping
Hamilton, as did I. Longtime E-Sylum contributor Dick Johnson agrees, and this week no less a figure than former Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke backed the cause. Here's one of many articles on the topic. -Editor
The $10 bill announcement by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew last week was intended to set off both a
celebration and a great national debate: For the first time in more than a century, the portrait of a woman would grace a major
denomination of U.S. paper currency, and the government wanted the public to help decide which heroine of democracy would receive the
honor. The redesigned sawbuck would be unveiled in 2020, in time for the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage.
The Treasury Department got its debate all right, but not the one it was looking for.
Instead of weighing the merits of America’s most iconic women, some of the nation’s most prominent voices have been fighting to save the
founding father she would displace: Alexander Hamilton. Chief among them was Ben Bernanke, who as chairman of the Federal Reserve oversaw
the central bank responsible for issuing the nation’s currency. “I must admit I was appalled to hear of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's
decision last week to demote Alexander Hamilton from his featured position on the ten dollar bill,” the typically-circumspect ex-chairman
wrote on the blog he publishes for the Brookings Institution.
In a piece devoted to the exaltation of the country’s first Treasury secretary, Bernanke added that placing a woman on a currency note
was “a fine idea, but it shouldn't come at Hamilton's expense.” On the White House’s “We the People” website, two separate
petitions have been launched to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill.
The controversy stems from the messy convergence of a grassroots movement and a federal bureaucracy moving at its ordinary, glacial
pace. For months, a campaign called Women on 20s has been gaining steam in its bid to pressure the Treasury Department into replacing
Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman in time for the 2020 commemoration of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.
This spring, the organization boasted that more than a million people had voted in an online tournament it held to nominate a woman for the
$20. (Harriet Tubman was the winner.) And Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced legislation to mandate that a woman be placed
on the note.
Aside from the significance of the number twenty, activists had targeted Jackson because he is easily the most objectionable of the men
now featured on the major currency notes. (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Hamilton round out the cast. The
slave-holding Thomas Jefferson was no saint, but who actually uses $2 bills?)
Yet while the Women on 20s push had gained momentum recently, the Treasury Department’s currency redesign process has been years in the
making. And the note next slated for a new look was the $10 bill, not the $20. The driving factor behind any change in the currency is
always technological rather than aesthetic—the Treasury Department needs to update each note every so often to stay ahead of
counterfeiters, and according to the department, security officials in 2013 recommended that the $10 be prioritized “assuming no other
counterfeit threats emerge.” In his public remarks, Lew has stressed that the decision was not meant as a snub of Hamilton, a man he hailed
for laying “the groundwork for our economy and America’s longterm prosperity.” He promised that Hamilton wouldn’t be kicked off the sawbuck
entirely; keeping two distinct designs is one option, or he could be featured in a smaller way or on the back of the note.
For the advocates of putting a woman on the $20 bill, Treasury’s announcement has made a jubilant moment considerably more awkward.
“This is quite the conundrum,” Barbara Ortiz Howard, the founder of Women on 20s, told me. “This was originally supposed to be a
celebration of women and their contributions to this country, and a great byproduct was going to be replacing someone who represents hate.
And now we have a bit of a curveball.”
To read the complete article, see:
Decision to Put a Woman on
the $10 Bill Sparks Unexpected Backlash
It will be interesting to see how all this sorts out. To me, it sounds like the Treasury is opening the door to commemorative banknote
issues with the option of somehow keeping a Hamilton version around. Politicians could please every portion of the electorate by
regularly calling for new portraits for our currency. I don't think that would actually happen anytime soon, but other countries
issue commemorative banknotes and have people lined up around the block to purchase them at a premium. If the U.S. Mint can suck money
from the pockets of collectors with a plethora of commemorative coins, why not do the same with products of the Bureau of Engraving and
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
A WOMAN'S PORTRAIT PLANNED FOR U.S. $10 BILL
SEVERAL WOMEN TOUTED FOR $10 BILL
Wayne Homren, Editor
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