I have mixed feelings about the Treasury Department’s substitution of Harriet Tubman for Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Some have made the best of it by pointing out that Tubman was a gun-toting Republican. Well, fine. But she was a minor figure in American history. Jackson, on the other hand, was of towering importance. He was the first populist American politician and the founder of the modern Democratic Party. That should count for something, no matter how low his party has subsequently fallen.
And “Old Hickory” holds a symbolic place in American history, apart from any partisan affiliation. His face bore a scar that, legend holds, was inflicted by a British saber when Jackson was a boy, before or during the Revolutionary War. A British officer ordered the young Jackson to polish his boots, and, the story goes, Jackson replied “F*** you” or the 18th-century equivalent. Hence the saber cut. You have to give the guy some credit for that.
Jackson was combative. He fought a number of duels, and apparently won them all, while being wounded here and there. He won the Battle of New Orleans, one of America’s signal early military victories. He fought Indians on behalf of his country, and apparently didn’t much like them, the fault for which he is mostly now reviled. But, to be fair, there were a lot of people Jackson didn’t like.
He was tough in a way that is hard for most Americans, these days, to understand. After Jackson had concluded his term as President, when he was an elderly man, a lunatic tried to assassinate him. Fortunately, the lunatic’s gun misfired. Jackson beat him nearly to death with his cane.
Andrew Jackson had his faults. What historical figure doesn’t? But he played a pivotal role in American history. Whether you agree with him on the issues of his day or not–I think he was wrong about the bank, but I easily could be mistaken–it was Andrew Jackson, more than anyone else, who made America into a truly popular democracy. That is worth celebrating on our $20 bill.
In comparison, Harriet Tubman’s contributions are admirable, but minor.
Still, it could be worse. Michael Ramirez contemplates Barack Obama on the $20–no, wait, that’s $20 trillion–bill:
What would Andrew Jackson think of Barack Obama? Wow. I don’t think we can print Jackson’s reaction in a family web site. Therein lies the long, sad history of the Democratic Party. Harriet Tubman is far from ideal as the face of our $20 bill, but she beats the heck out of Barack Obama.