Policy

Alexander Hamilton Gets Reprieve, Harriet Tubman on $20 Bill

Hero of the Underground Railroad to replace Andrew Jackson after outcry

Hamilton College mascot "Alex," aka Alexander Hamilton, poses on the House steps holding a sign to save Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill in September. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alexander Hamilton's place on the $10 bill appears to be safe, but President Andrew Jackson will lose his spot on the front of the $20 bill to Harriet Tubman, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced Wednesday.  

The decision provoked sheer delight among both Hamilton fans and advocates for a woman's face on U.S. currency.  

"I'm just jumping through my shoes and through my clothes here," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat who hails from Paterson, N.J., a place with a personal connection to the founding father.  

"Hamilton is not just an historic figure to me," Pascrell said. "Hamilton was a real human factor in starting the very city I've lived in all my life."  

Likewise, lawmakers and advocates who pushed for a woman's visage on a bill were thrilled with the announcement about Tubman, who led scores of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.  

“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,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who introduced legislation last year to put a woman's face on the $20 bill.  

Lew made the formal announcements in an open letter released Wednesday.  

"This process has been much bigger than one square inch on one bill, and along the way, we heard about countless individuals who contributed to our democracy," he wrote. "Our website, modernmoney.treasury.gov , will highlight many of the names that we heard throughout this process, and help tell some of the many stories that inspired us."  

The changes go far beyond putting Tubman on the front of the $20 bill and retaining Hamilton on the front of the redesigned $10 notes. The back of the $10 bill, which is the first denomination in line for the redesign, will now honor the 1913 march for women's suffrage, which reached its end at the Treasury building itself.  

Lew said the honorees will include women like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth. Jackson will appear on the reverse side of the $20 bill, with a forthcoming $5 bill showcasing images of historic events at the Lincoln Memorial, such as the "I Have A Dream" speech.  

While it is unclear when the new $20 bill will arrive, the timing will be based on security needs and demands.  

In a call with reporters, Lew said, "we started hearing from people at a rather fast clip" after the Treasury first announced plans to redesign the $10 bill last year.  

"There was kind of an aha moment in July," said Lew, who thought the department could tell more stories through currency by taking a broader view.  

The initial idea was to replace Hamilton, who was the nation's first treasury secretary but never a president.  

Pascrell said within five minutes of hearing that the $10 bill could be changed, he began making calls.  

It was Hamilton, Pascrell said, who brought George Washington to New Jersey's Great Falls that had powered the development of the industrial center on the shores of the Passaic River.  Great Falls ultimately became a national historical park.  

He praised Lew for listening to the comments and the outcry and for adjusting the plan.  

"I think he's one of the best people that Obama brought to Washington over the past eight years," the New Jersey Democrat said. "This is a big deal, not because I say so, but it reflects what this country's all about."  

News that a woman, an African-American woman at that, would soon grace the $20 bill was met with excitement.  

“Harriet Tubman’s fight for equality and freedom embodies the American spirit and she deserves to be featured beside our founding fathers,” Shaheen said. “Having a woman prominently on the face of the 20 will finally send a powerful message on our currency about the important role women have played in our nation’s history.”  

The senator's legislation would direct the treasury secretary to convene a panel of citizens to recommend who should appear on the bill, following a grassroots campaign called Women on 20s.  

Illinois Democrat Luis V. Gutiérrez introduced a similar bill in the House around the same time. Following Wednesday’s announcement, he took a photograph with a mock up of the new bill. He noted that the Caribbean-born Hamilton was the only immigrant to appear on U.S. currency.  

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez with a mock up of the new $20 bill (Photo courtesy of Gutiérrez's office)
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez with a mock up of the new $20 bill (Photo courtesy of Gutiérrez's office)

New York Sen. Kristen Gililbrand is celebrating not just Tubman, but  Alexander Hamilton as well.  

“My friend Lin-Manuel Miranda has done our nation a great service by telling Alexander Hamilton’s story,” the Democrat said.  Miranda wrote the book, music and lyrics and starred in Broadway’s “Hamilton.”  

“It’s fantastic that because so many people learned about the American hero who created our financial system, Hamilton will remain on the $10 bill,” she said.  

Gillibrand added that a woman's face on U.S. currency is long over due. And she noted that Tubman settled in New York after years of guiding slaves in Southern states to freedom in the North and Canada.  

Among the only unhappy notes, was Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander's lament that native son Jackson was demoted from the front to the back of the $20 bill.  

"It is unnecessary to diminish Jackson in order to honor Tubman," he said in a statement." Jackson was the first common man to be elected president. He fought to save the Union. He defined an American era.”  

Contact Lesniewski at nielslesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski. Contact Gangitano at alexgangitano@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @alexgangitano.    

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