Originally appeared in the New York Times.
I’m all in for the plan announced last week by the Treasury to put a woman on a piece of American folding money. But in bumping Alexander Hamilton from the center of the $10 bill, we would be exiling the man most responsible for our nation’s having a sound currency in the first place.
The solution is simple: Evict Andrew Jackson from the $20 to make room for a worthy woman. In stark contrast to Hamilton, Jackson did more than most presidents to damage our financial system and our economy.
We are taught early on about Hamilton’s central role in the decision by the newly independent United States to assume the debts of its former colonies, a key step in constructing a sound monetary system and a creditworthy nation. That’s just a tiny example of the achievements and the visionary genius of our first — and greatest — Treasury secretary, who built the nation’s financial architecture from scratch.
Over Thomas Jefferson’s fierce opposition, he established the Bank of the United States, which facilitated government transactions and the creation of our national currency. Then there’s his 1791 Report on Manufactures, in which he displayed his understanding of the key role government can play in promoting economic development.
Not content to report, Hamilton acted, turning Paterson, N.J., into our first centrally planned industrial hub. If economic policy had been left to the agrarian-oriented Jefferson, we’d all still be farmers.
Contrast that record with Jackson’s. For starters, the rough-hewed seventh president hated paper money. (The reason Jackson was selected in 1928 to replace Grover Cleveland on the $20 bill has been lost to history.) Moreover, Jackson delivered on populist campaign promises to abolish the second Bank of the United States, which had been formed after the Senate allowed the first bank’s charter to expire.
The lack of even a primitive central bank played a significant role in the Panic of 1837, a brutal financial downturn, as well as in the frequently ensuing bouts of economic instability that persisted until after the Federal Reserve was established in 1913.
Jackson’s misguided notions weren’t limited to economic matters. While Hamilton was an abolitionist, Jackson was a slave owner. When the Public Theater took on Jackson in 2010, the musical was titled “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a nod to his role in waging war, particularly against Native Americans. Coincidentally, the hottest ticket in New York this year is a laudatory musical biography of Hamilton, also produced at the Public.
In its announcement on Wednesday, the Treasury Department said that “the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain part of the $10 note.” That’s not nearly enough for one of the greatest of our founding fathers.
The various women who’ve been put forward for this pioneering role — including Susan B. Anthony (a second try after her dollar coin flopped, twice), Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt — are all outstanding individuals worthy of recognition. Just don’t push aside Alexander Hamilton to make room.