The U.S. Treasury has decided to put African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the front of the new 20 dollar bill, replacing former president Andrew Jackson, who will be moved to the back of the bill, Treasury officials said Wednesday. Former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the new $10 bill, officials said, after the Treasury department encountered fierce opposition to its initial plan to remove the founding father to make way for a woman to appear on the paper currency.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will announce decisions regarding several bills on Wednesday, officials said. The Treasury Department hopes to release the design concept for the new bills by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States.
Citing unnamed sources, CNN reported April 16 that the soonest the new 20 dollar bill would be issued is 2030. The news prompted a backlash on Twitter, with supporters of the campaign to put a woman on a bill arguing that women had waited long enough. However, a Treasury spokesman called the speculation that the new $20 would not appear until 2030 “baseless,” saying that Treasury is working with other government departments to expedite the process, and it’s too early to say when the release date will be.
Lew announced in June 2015 that the Treasury was considering removing Hamilton from the $10 bill, to allow a woman to appear on the front of a paper note for the first time since Martha Washington was taken off the $1 silver certificate. The $10 bill was already slated for a redesign in 2020. The bills are regularly reworked to prevent counterfeiting.
The Treasury was moved in part by a viral campaign in early 2015 to put a woman’s portrait on the new 20 dollar bill in 2020, to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage. The group “Women on $20s” received more than 600,000 online and in-person votes for a choice of 15 American women, including Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt. Tubman received the most votes.
Putting Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill
“Women on 20s,” a campaign started earlier this year that has since inspired bills in the House and the Senate, is trying to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on 20 dollar bills. (WomenOn20s.org)
But the Treasury’s announcement drew a backlash from supporters of Hamilton, who, as an aide to George Washington and the first secretary of the treasury, helped erect the U.S. economic and banking system. Hamilton has gained notoriety in recent years due to the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play, which earlier this week won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The debate sparked a grass-roots movement to instead remove Jackson, a slave owner whose divisive presidency included removing several Native American tribes from their lands in the South, from the 20 dollar bill. Some point out that Jackson also opposed paper currency, in favor of gold and silver.
Supporters greeted the choice of Tubman, who helped bring dozens of slaves to freedom in her lifetime through the network of abolitionists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. “A woman, a leader, and a freedom fighter. I can’t think of a better choice for the 20 dollar bill than Harriet Tubman,” Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who introduced legislation last year in support of the campaign to put a woman on the $20, released a statement saying that the move would send a powerful message about the important role women have played in U.S. history. “Women have waited long enough, and I will urge the Treasury Department to look at every possible option to expedite the release date of this new bill,” she said.
Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and a proponent of keeping Hamilton on the currency, applauded the news in a blog post. “Tubman is an excellent and deserving choice, and no one has a better claim to be represented on the currency than Hamilton, who did so much to help establish the American economic system we know today,” he wrote.