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Jackson, not Hamilton, to be Replaced on US Currency

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In a move that will be unsurprising to cynics everywhere, the US treasury has announced that Andrew Jackson, and not Alexander Hamilton, will be replaced by Harriet Tubman. 

Alexander Hamilton, the father of American central banking, protectionism, and government meddling in economic affairs, is just too beloved by the Washington establishment to have his place of honor on the ten-dollar bill revoked. Hamilton was opposed by Jefferson at most every turn during the Washington administration. But Washington, who was something of a simpleton when it came to complex policy matters, viewed Hamilton in a fatherly way and usually deferred to whatever Hamilton wanted, at the expense of the Jeffersonian camp. Hamilton's influence extended right down to encouraging military action against peaceful American citizens in the case of the Whiskey Rebellion. Basically, Hamilton was the spiritual father to Janet Reno, A. Mitchell Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover, and every other federal thug who has seen fit to crush dissenting Americans. 

Jackson, on the other hand, is best known for opposing the Second Bank of the United States and for his opposition to central banking in general. His veto message that accompanied his veto of the Bank's renewal is still useful today illustrating the ways that central banks serve the interests of the wealth investor class at the expense of ordinary people. 

This isn't to say that I like having to look at Jackson's face every time I use a twenty-dollar bill. Jackson, after all, supported a variety of horrible policies that greatly extended government power including the Trail of Tears (which was done so governments could seize more private land), and westward territorial expansion (including the annexation of Texas). Jackson was also worse on slavery than Hamilton, although Hamilton's abolitionism has been greatly overstated. 

Nevertheless, "Jacksonian" remains an adjective that suggests something is opposed to a powerful central government and is supportive of democratically-based local control. "Hamiltonian" implies pretty much the opposite. 

So, who can be surprised that it's Jackson, and not Hamilton, who will get the boot?

But why not replace both? 

Indeed, the American habit of placing politicians — and only politicians — on the currency is an indicator of what Americans truly value. For Americans, everything is political. History classes are all politics all the time, with very little studied in the way of science, literature, commerce, and other fields absolutely essential to civilization. But putting the faces of politicians on everything from mountains to money, Americans send the message that politics is the highest calling in life. Such a message is nothing less than truly disturbing. Even when non-politicians are considered for national honors, we're usually stuck with political reformers. 

So, why stop with Tubman? Hamilton should be booted as well, as should Washington (Hamilton's stooge); Jefferson (the father of the unconstitutional Embargo Act and the unconstitutional Louisiana Purchase); Lincoln (the man who abolished habeus corpus, burned down half the country, and cynically "freed" slaves in occupied territories as a military measure); and Ulysses S. Grant (a corrupt mediocrity of a man). Benjamin Franklin, who was a crass opportunist and narcissist in his personal and professional life nevertheless accomplished enough in the fields of commerce and science to keep his spot on a bill. 

Now, one could argue that putting Harriet Tubman on a federal reserve note is actually an insult to Tubman, who certainly never achieved entry into the ruling classes that benefit from the machinations of central banks. However, I suspect the rationale behind this position would be lost on most Americans. Whose face is on the paper money is simply seen my most as an indicator of who should be esteemed in Americans society. Thus, the monopoly of politicians on currency portraits has long been problematic. 

All these men should be replaced with other people, post haste.

Back before the euro currency, those who traveled in Europe might have noticed that the Europeans, for example, did not use only politicians on their money. The Germans used to put Clara Schumann and the mathematician Gauss on their money. The Irish used to put James Joyce on their money. 

The US should follow this example. Here's a suggested list for replacements who are more honorable than the current crop of politicos. Some of them held political positions in their lives, but their careers were largely non-political (in no particular order): 

  1. George Bent: Part of the notable Bent trading family in Colorado and New Mexico; historian; Half white, half Cheyenne; confederate soldier. 
  2. Jonas Salk: American medical researcher and virologist; inventor of polio vaccine. 
  3. Edgar Allen Poe: Internationally influential author.
  4. Susan B. Anthony: Social reformer; has been on money before. 
  5. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Educator; Seton Hall University is named after her.
  6. Frances Cabrini: Founder of numerous charitable institutions; Italian-American
  7. Albert Einstein: Physicist; German-American.
  8. H.L. Mencken: Influential writer; social critic; scholar and historian of English language. 
  9. The Wright Brothers: Inventors, aviation pioneers
  10. Nikola Tesla: Inventor; Serbian-American.

This list is just for starters. Naturally, we could put together a lengthy list of explorers, settlers, business people, actors, writers, inventors, athletes, film directors, and more. 


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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