The Treasury Department recently announced that Alexander Hamilton, America’s first secretary of the treasury, will have to share the $10 bill with an as-yet-unnamed woman — Rosa Parks? Harriet Tubman? — starting in 2020. Supporters are glad to see somebody besides a white guy on America’s money; critics have complained about political correctness the possible diminishing of Hamilton’s stature in the nation’s historical memory.
Should Hamilton share the bill? Who should be honored on our currency? Why the controversy? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Faces come and go. Dozens of U.S. luminaries, including some famous statesmen in their day that later faded into obscurity, have graced our paper money.
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But the decision to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill rankles.
You might recall the recent grassroots campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill. It seemed a bit gimmicky — put a woman on the 20 by 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage — but it caught on. Some 600,000 people voted online for Harriett Tubman, the former slave who established the Underground Railroad to help other slaves escape to the north, to replace Andrew Jackson.
Then last week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a woman would indeed grace a bill — just not the $20 bill.
“Given the vital role women have played to build our nation, it is only right that our currency reflect their contributions,” Lew said. Well, sure.
In fact, we’ve had women on our currency, including one figure among the litany of names Lew put up in his announcement: Martha Washington, wife of George, adorned $1 silver certificates in the 1880s. Mrs. Washington was the first first lady and a remarkable woman.
But Lew’s actual rationale doesn’t make much sense, beyond identity politics and a politically correct urgency to have a woman on a bill sooner rather than later.
My far-fetched theory? Treasury announced the change to the $10 bill to re-galvanize grassroots support for putting a woman on the $20. Think about it: Andrew Jackson was a scoundrel who gave us the Trail of Tears and the deeply corrupt spoils system. And not incidentally, this was the president who destroyed the Second Bank of the United States.
But Hamilton is on the $10 bill because he just happened to help found the republic, framed the U.S. Constitution, and created the system of money and credit the United States has relied upon for more than two centuries.
Putting Jackson on a Federal Reserve Note was somebody’s idea of a joke. Taking Hamilton off is somebody’s idea of political expediency. Keep Hamilton. Boot Jackson. Give Martha Washington or Abigail Adams the $20. Problem solved.
Here’s the part of the column where I’m supposed to disagree with my good friend Ben, to argue for a woman and against the unending tyranny of dead white guys on our money, and normally I’d be happy to do so.
But you know what? Meh.
Today, I’m going to argue very strongly in favor of … not giving much of a darn. The Hamilton controversy just isn’t worth the energy, anger, or thousands and thousands of overwrought words that have already been expended on the issue.
At National Review Online, conservative columnist Mona Charen decried the “arrogance, ignorance and stupidity of this move.”
The conservative Ace of Spades blog said President Obama, “the bitter racialist divider and national arsonist, had hoped for a big uproar about putting Some Woman on the currency.”
I get how the game is played. Obama is a Democrat. Anything he does or says — and anything his administration proposes to do — is bad until proven innocent. And if it’s bad, it’s probably evil, probably worth decrying at top volume. (Before you say it: Yes, liberals do this with conservatives, too.)
Sometimes, the correct response for all of us — left and right — is to look at a situation or a proposal or an idea and do the following: Shrug. Tell yourself: “That’s not the way I’d do it, but it’s not a big deal.”
We have important things to hash out in this country. The $10 bill is worth a conversation, maybe even a friendly debate between Ben and me. (For the record, put a woman on the $20 and get rid of Andrew Jackson. Fine by me!) But it’s not worth the kind of scorched-earth rhetoric we’ve seen in the last few days. Meh, I say. Meh.
Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor of Philadelphia Magazine.