Ben Domenech wonders how early America’s most famous self-made man, who fought by Washington’s side in the revolution, who co-wrote the Federalist Papers, who constructed the country’s financial system, and who was decades ahead of his time in opposing the slave trade ended up on the currency chopping block.
Our terrible ruling class can’t even resist farking up our money.
Back in 2009, during the height of the Tea Party, there were crotchety old Americans who warned in dark tones about the dangers of this president. He was a socialist, they said, and feckless to boot. He hated the American Founding and the men who built the foundations of this country. He would lead us into war and ruin and despair, and he would tear down the monuments to our heroes along the way. He was anti-American through and through, in ways that us youngsters did not understand. When they said this, I would disagree as politely as possible. The president is wrong about policy, wrong about direction, I said at the time, but he is not a socialist, not someone who hates America. He may have the wrong ideas, but his heart was still in the right place, or close to it.
Is it possible they were right, and I was wrong?
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says it’s no slight against Hamilton, just a quirk of scheduling: The $10 was due for a redesign and the feds want a woman on the currency by 2020 to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage. But of course it’s a slight. No one thinks Washington would be booted from the $1 or Lincoln from the $5 if those bills were next for a design overhaul. As for why Hamilton instead of Jackson, the great persecutor of Native Americans and a man effectively disowned by his party (a fan of decentralization with a southern base is basically the opposite of the modern Democratic Party), Lew says it’s because the bills need to be redesigned sequentially for some reason. Presumably Jackson will be cashiered in due time too, but not by 2020.
Who’s replacing Hamilton? Lew won’t say yet:
Lew said Obama administration officials are seeking advice nationwide — including people who “aren’t comfortable using a hashtag as well as people who are comfortable using a hashtag.”
“We are going to be open to many ideas as we go forward consistent with theme of democracy,” Lew said. “Our thinking is to select a woman who has played a major role in our history who represents the theme of democracy.”
The bills with Hamilton in it, which were first introduced in 1929, will continue to be used for as long as those bill last, Lew said.
Presumably it’ll be Harriet Tubman, the name most often mentioned as a potential replacement for Jackson. Hard to believe the feds, having resolved to remove one of the most influential Founders from the sawbuck in favor of a woman, would double down on an all-white currency by choosing a white woman over a black one. Besides, Tubman is better known to most Americans, I’d bet, than leaders of the suffrage movement like Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One of the arguments made on Twitter last night for why Hamilton ended up being sent into currency retirement is that many of us simply don’t know who he is, his amazing achievements notwithstanding. He’s expendable culturally in a way that American presidents like Washington, Lincoln, and even Jackson aren’t. It would be odd if the woman who replaced him is much more obscure than he is, even granting that women had grossly fewer opportunities than men like Hamilton did to make a major mark on American politics until recently. Tubman made hers despite everything that was stacked against her. Eleanor Roosevelt did too, although it would be beyond strange to find FDR’s First Lady on the currency when FDR himself, arguably the most consequential president of the last hundred years, isn’t.
But I digress. Jack Lew’s rationalizations aside, why’d they bump Hamilton instead of Jackson? One theory being kicked around last night was that a Democratic administration wouldn’t bump a former Democratic president from the currency, but like I said above, that doesn’t wash. There are few modern Dems who view the term “Jacksonian” as a compliment. Another possibility, as noted, is that Hamilton’s less well known to the public than Jackson is, which may be true but isn’t so true that it would explain a strong preference for bumping the former instead of the latter. Washington and Lincoln are untouchable American icons; Jackson once had an iconic status, but time and greater public awareness of his political sins have eroded his cultural currency. His own accomplishments don’t rival Hamilton’s. He should have been the first to go and would have gone with less objection from people who know their history. Maybe Hamilton was picked for retirement precisely because the administration knew that replacing him would be more likely to provoke a public outcry, especially among GOPers who think greater respect for the Founders and their constitutional scheme are key to restoring American greatness. The more Republicans grumble about Hamilton being tossed, the easier it is to frame their complaints as opposition to having a woman on the currency, a fine little flourish for the “war on women” crapola to come this year and next. Exit question: Which GOP candidate will be the first to call for reinstating Hamilton?