News / Opinion

Harriet Tubman


The United States Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, while Jackson’s picture would simply be moved to the back. Tubman,an African American woman who escaped from a plantation in the South and reached her destination in the North, was a conductor for the Underground Railroad, which aided escaping slaves and allowed them safe passage to the northern states. Even after the Fugitive Slave Act passed — an act that allowed the southern states to capture fugitive slaves in the North — Tubman risked her life time and time again to rescue slaves, including her family. While her story might not be a coming-of-age one, hers was most surely a tale full of courage that Jackson, a president whose genocidal nature cost the lives of many minorities during the early 19th century, could have never possessed. For him to be placed on the same bill where a woman who saved the lives of the many he tried to enslave and torture is a paradox within itself.

Media shows countless accounts of people rejecting the idea of changing the face of the $20 bill, while many want Tubman on her own denomination of money like a $12 bill. Others want Jackson to remain on the bill and not change anything at all. However, to acknowledge Jackson’s actions and let him stay on the bill, whether it be the front or back, lets the citizens believe that these actions should not be condoned and are rather encouraged.

Andrew Jackson is one of America’s “great” presidents. At least that’s what my history textbook and the federal notes in my purse tell me. Our history textbook catechized us on an “Age of Jackson” and the bold inauguration of “Jacksonian democracy.” I don’t deny the bark-chewing, bloody-axe awe that his life story inspires. Jackson grew up in a log-cabin in North Carolina, became an orphan during the Revolutionary War, and then rose up to become a frontier aristocrat, making his fortune in Tennessee at the turn of the century. Jackson was the embodied zenith of Southern Scots-Irish honor culture. But Jackson’s sense of honor was far less about protecting a good reputation than instilling a fearsome one through terrible violence. He was a smoldering latrine fire of resentments and rage. And in many ways, quarrels about honor obsessed his presidency. Jackson’s life story seemed almost purpose-built for an American republic that had just adopted universal white male suffrage in 1820.

To place Jackson on the exact bill where Tubman will be is quite out of place. Jackson was known for his genocidal ways, killing hundreds of Indians in the Trail of Tears and making hundreds of African Americans suffer at the cost of his luxurious lifestyle. To contrast that, there will be Harriet Tubman, a woman known for aiding the escape of hundreds of fugitive slaves, and in return, landed her name on the nation’s most wanted list. To have complete polar opposites from different sides of the spectrum is not comprehensible. It is as if the United States Treasury is trying to compromise with the extremists who genuinely believe Jackson was a good president by still keeping him on the same bill with an abolitionist. If any were alive today, perhaps they would have rather died, than being affiliated with their foe. Maybe that should resonate with the Treasury; that each of them despised the other and would have never, in their wildest dreams, have wanted anything to do with the other.

Jackson stood for everything that would help benefit the common people. The common people being middle class, white men who would hopefully vote for him in the next election. In simpler terms, he was a Donald Trump with slightly better hair. To have a man, who embodies genocide and the suffering of minorities, represent our nation on any side of one of the most commonly used bills in the United States just goes to show that in the 200 years that have passed, people do not see past the glamour of his life story. Jackson is the literal epitome of fascism in America, and allowing his views to not only be remembered as something legendary in our history textbooks, but to also be praised by placing his face on paper money, let’s upcoming generations believe that his perspective is not only tolerable but something to look up to.

We often say that George Washington was a great president. That’s wrong: He was a great man and a good president. Washington was good precisely because he refused to make himself a great president.  Jackson was the first “great” president. Jackson pushed America’s fragile Republican institutions down in front of the march of mass democracy. He put the executive branch on a tilt that eventually made it superior to Congress, and made the president himself into a kind of populist king and symbol of the people’s will. The American nation has suffered from infantilized Congresses, cowardly judiciaries, and “great presidencies” ever since.

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