Here's my Courier-Journal column on why I think Alexander Hamilton should remain on the ten dollar bill. With thanks to the C-J for giving me permission to reprint:
Poor Alexander Hamilton has become the Rodney Dangerfield of paper money: he "don't get no respect."
Efforts are afoot to replace Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill. Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave turned abolitionist, has been mentioned as a replacement and appears to be the leading contender.
For the record, Harriet Tubman rocks. Not only did she advance the cause of abolition and women's suffrage, but she also was a Republican and embraced her second amendment right to carry a gun as a spy for the Union Army. Tubman is worthy of honor.
It does not follow, however, that, Alexander Hamilton should be cast aside to make way for Harriet Tubman. This is a false conflict — not an "either or" situation.
It's true that Hamilton is not as well known as those founding fathers who went on to become president. That's a pity, because he was a fascinating man — and not just because Vice President Aaron Burr killed him in a duel. Perhaps the new Broadway musical Hamilton will boost his name ID.
As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton established the foundation of our nation's economy and monetary system, which is why he, of all the founders, should be commemorated on actual currency. He is, after all, the American who established the U.S. Mint.
Hamilton was one of three authors of the Federalist Papers; he wrote 51 of the 85 essays. Hamilton's writings were instrumental in convincing Americans to adopt the new Constitution. Hamilton was an early abolitionist and a founder of the New York Manumission Society, which advocated ending slavery in the 1790s, many years before that cause became widespread.
Hamilton's accomplishments are all the more remarkable given the adversity he overcame. Hamilton was born illegitimate, back when the term "bastard" was a real stigma. He immigrated to this country from the Caribbean and was orphaned at a young age. Immigrants and those who are born out of wedlock should therefore celebrate Hamilton as proof that this is a country of second chances, where one can go on to greatness despite the most humble and shameful of beginnings.
Before Hamilton graced the ten-dollar bill, that honor belonged to Andrew Jackson (who is now on the twenty-dollar bill). Some would say that Jackson has been on two bills too many. Democrats celebrate Jackson as the founder of their party. But Jackson's legacy is a mixed bag, particularly with respect to his treatment of Native Americans. Those who take umbrage at the name of the Washington Redskins overlook the fact that every time they pay with a $20, they are honoring the man responsible for the Trail of Tears. To the extent that we need to banish dead white men from currency to make room for Tubman, Jackson should be first in line.
I wonder how Tubman would feel about displacing Hamilton. It seems so impolite, like forcing someone to move from a general admission seat they already occupy.
Why not bring back the thousand-dollar bill and put Tubman on that? Higher denominations are disfavored and therefore not circulated, supposedly because they make crime and money laundering easier. It is hard to see, however, how forcing a drug dealer to carry ten hundreds rather than one thousand-dollar bill reduces crime. Given inflation, a thousand dollars isn't really that large a bill.
One of the reasons given for tossing Hamilton off the ten-dollar bill is that bill it is slated to be redone. That's just the Treasury Department deferring to a self-imposed schedule. There is no need for a schedule to revise currency. And if such schedule leads to bad decisions — such as scrapping Hamilton — then that schedule itself should be revised.
The Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, is the D.C. bureaucrat who wants to replace Hamilton. Lew needs to reflect on the history of the founder of his department.
Fortunately, there are people outside of Washington, D.C. who have more respect for Lew's predecessor. The Alexander Hamilton History Society, founded and based in Louisville, has created an online petition to retain their namesake on the currency. The Society meets every third Saturday at the St. Matthews's branch of the Louisville Free Public Library to hear lectures regarding Hamilton and other founding fathers. Hamilton supporters may sign the petition at the AHHSKY website: http://ahhsky.wix.com/ahhs-ky
As the society's website cautions, quoting President Calvin Coolidge regarding Hamilton: "When America ceases to remember his greatness, America will no longer be great."