The last few months have seen a rise in support for a change of face in American currency. Bills have been proposed in both the House and the Senate after President Obama said in a speech that a nine-year-old girl wrote him a letter regarding the lack of women on paper money.
Activists have made their target known, and it is the $20 bill, which currently features a portrait of a wild-haired Andrew Jackson.
The Women On 20s campaign has gained considerable traction and is in the midst of conducting an unofficial online poll. The finalists are Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and Wilma Mankiller. An abolitionist, a civil rights activist, an influential first lady and a Cherokee chief, respectively.
I am partial to Parks. Racism is often considered a product of past times, but racial conflict and the grating of historic tensions are more relevant now than they have been in years. Adding Parks into circulation could serve as a reminder of how things were and how things need to be if development is to continue.
Of all the men who helped shape our nation, and were rewarded with their portraits plastered on our currency, Jackson is easily the least deserving.
Often in the modern world, we look back on our predecessors and allow for a learning curve. We forgive Bill Clinton for signing the Defense of Marriage Act and for enacting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. We have accepted the fact that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Henry Ford and Walt Disney were anti-Semites, but Jewish people buy their products.
Andrew Jackson does not belong in this category of necessary evils.
He was a racist, warmongering and greedy plantation owner who became president and destroyed the lives of thousands in the name of American expansion.
Jackson assumed the presidency in 1829 and immediately became the people’s president. He was the first president to invite the public to his inauguration ball. He came from a log cabin in Tennessee and became the most famous war hero to emerge out of the War of 1812, after his victories in the Battle of New Orleans.
A self-made man, his path to the White House would have been an honorable and intriguing one if he had not made his money buying and selling hundreds of slaves. And the kicker is that his plantation was on land that had previously been set aside for Native Americans. How is that for foreshadowing?
While it is unlikely a reasonable, fair and peaceful resolution would have ever been reached, Jackson expedited the inevitable conflict between the native North American population and Manifest Destiny rather cruelly. His actions can be looked at as the point of no return for the relationship between our still developing nation and the Native American populace.
Jackson forcibly removed tens of thousands of Choctaw, Cherokee and Seminole Native Americans, including several thousand slaves, from their homes in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Most of them walked the 2,000 miles on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. If they survived the trek, their children and grandchildren would, in all likelihood, later be forcibly removed again.
Jackson was not solely responsible for the persecution of Native Americans, nor was he the worst person to ever walk this earth. However, he was not just a product of his times. He was, for all intents and purposes, a monster who dehumanized his fellow human beings to the point of genocide and enslavement.
This is hardly a man worth celebrating or memorializing.
Putting a black woman on the $20 bill will probably not make a dent in the immense amount of work our country still has to do across the board. Not to mention our currency will serve as recognition for someone who was not a rich white male.
Not that rich white men have not done a lot for our country. They have just also done a pretty good job of making sure they were the only ones available for the job.