Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Obama Administration’s Plan to Replace Alexander Hamilton’s Portrait on the $10 Bill Is Divisive and Patronizing

           The Obama Administration has announced its intent to place an image of a woman in its redesign of the Ten Dollar United States Federal Reserve Note in place of that of Alexander Hamilton, although Hamilton’s portrait may continue to appear on some $10 bills.

            Hamilton was an American Founding Father, and in that capacity was the author of most of the Federalist Papers that defended the U.S. Constitution during the debate over its ratification, and the first and greatest Secretary of the Treasury who, among other major achievements in that office, established the dollar as the United States monetary unit.  Few other Americans accomplished as much as Hamilton, or, indeed, as much as any of the other greatest Founding Fathers, especially any women.  It is unclear if there would be a new image on the reverse of the $10 bill, which currently features the Department of the Treasury.

The Administration made clear it seeks to place a portrait of an individual woman on the $10 bill, not the allegorical female figure of Liberty.  Sometimes allegorical female figures or images of eagles have been printed onto paper American currency instead of individuals.  Portraits of Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, and Pocahontas, who assisted the English colonization of Virginia, have appeared on American paper currency, in the latter case, on the reverse.  There are a number of American women who made accomplishments of general benefit, such as Sacagawea, the guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, whose image is featured on the Native American Dollar coin, or “Dolly” Madison, the wife of Founder and President James Madison who, as First Lady, rescued historical treasurers from the invading British forces who burned the White House during the War of 1812, or Helen Keller, whose image appeared on the Alabama State Quarter Dollar, but none of their accomplishments are equal to those of the Founding Fathers or to certain other historical figures.  The replacement of Hamilton recalls the controversial replacement of Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander during the Second World War who was later President, on the Dollar coin in 1979 with women’s suffragette Susan B. Anthony in appearing to be ideologically motivated or as patronage to a favored political constituency. 

As I have noted previously, Liberty was inspired by the Roman goddess of freedom.  Her image appeared on the first coins issued by the U.S. under Treasurer Hamilton.  In contrast to the Roman custom of placing the image of the current Emperor or his wife or family members on coins, the Founding Fathers did not wish to allow coinage to be used as a means of self-promotion or politicized to the benefit of a particular political party or faction or to divide Americans, but instead intended coinage to unite Americans.  Accordingly, no individual figure appeared on American coins, other than commemorative coins, until 1909, when a portrait of Abraham Lincoln appeared on the Cent on the centennial of his birth.  Liberty continued to appear on regular issues of coins until the mid-1940s, by which time every regular issue coin featured an image of an individual.  Currently, Liberty appears only on commemorative or bullion coins, except for the image of the Statue of Liberty on the reverses of dollar coins, which are no longer minted for general circulation.  

There had been a movement by liberals to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 Note, but it is not scheduled to be redesigned until after the $10 bill.  He was the General who was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and the founder of the Democratic Party.  Perhaps his most fitting achievement as President to merit his portrait on American currency is that he was the only President to pay off the public debt, among other significant achievements, such as successfully resolving the Nullification Crisis. Unlike Hamilton, Jackson is reviled by some, among other reasons, for his policies towards certain Native American tribes during the war and for his personal slaveholding.  An example of typical liberal inconsistency is that there is no movement by liberals to replace the image of liberal Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, which has appeared on the Dime since the year after his death in 1945, even though, as President, he interred without trial thousands of American citizens, as well as numerous loyal permanent residents, on the sole basis of national origin, during the Second World War, and violated the civil rights of many others.  I have also previously noted how coin designs used to be completely changed with greater frequency in the past, but have generally become frozen, except in the cases of series in which only the obverse or reverse change, for several decades because of politics; the same is somewhat true of currency. 

Such controversies over what historical figures should appear on coins or currency would not exist if, as I have noted in previous posts, the example of the Founding Fathers of not placing the images of individuals on coins, except for allegorical figures, would once again be followed, in regard to both coins and currency, except for commemorative coins.  At most, it would be reasonable to place images of only the most significant Founders on coins or currency, in addition to symbols.  A more fitting place, like commemorative coins, to honor other individuals is on medals or postage stamps where many individuals, places or events are honored.  Instead of being divisive or patronizing or reflective of partisanship, regular issue coins and currency ought to be unifying.  

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