An Idaho lawmaker drew both praise and criticism online after calling Civil War icon Harriet Tubman an “obscure figure” and pointing to “political correctness” as the basis for efforts to replace Andrew Jackson’s image on the $20 bill with Tubman’s.
Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, made the comments Friday morning on Facebook where he shared a link to an MSN story about Treasure Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s comments on the same topic. In the story, Mnuchin said Obama-era efforts to replace Jackson, a slave-owner, were on hold.
"Ultimately we will be looking at this issue. It's not something I'm focused on at the moment,” Mnuchin told CNBC.
Hartgen, who has both master’s and doctorate degrees in American history, called Mnuchin’s stance a “good move.”
“Harriet Tubman was (is) an obscure civil War era figure whose national influence is minimal,” Hartgen wrote. “Jackson, on the other hand, was one of our most proactive presidents, a war hero and a well regarded champion of of the common people.”
Jackson is known for the forced migration of Native American tribes under the Indian Removal Act — known as the Trail of Tears. Critics say that fact, along with Jackson’s own distaste for paper money, should be enough to oust him from the bill.
Hartgen doesn’t agree.
“No real comparison except for the ‘political correctness’ argument,” he wrote.
Some commenters on Facebook agreed with the Twin Falls representative. One said that biographers have overestimated the number of slaves Tubman rescued via the Underground Railroad.
“Doesn't diminish her bravery but is a more accurate perspective. There are many great people who could be depicted on money. You liberals just want, want, want. Or is it demand, demand, demand?” the commenter said.
Others took Hartgen to task, calling his comments ignorant and out of touch and questioning his history expertise.
“I'm not sure what to say here; You supposedly studied history right? Yet you downplay Tubman while promoting the president that was involved in the deaths of MANY American Indians. Did they not cover the Indian Removal Act in your school?” wrote one commenter.
Hartgen defended his words in the comment section.
“The historical picture we have of Tubman is at least part myth, and partly one derived from the modern civil rights prism we see her through,” Hartgen wrote. “She appears to have been an active, but not leading abolitionist of the Civil War era, but not at the importance to the abolitionist movement as say Douglass, Garrison or Greeley.”