Home > Uncategorized > Andrew Jackson, Harriet Tubman, and the $20 bill – posted 6/9/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/16/2019

Andrew Jackson, Harriet Tubman, and the $20 bill – posted 6/9/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/16/2019

Back in 2016, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Harriet Tubman would appear on the $20 bill. She would have been the first African-American woman ever to be depicted on our currency.

The idea was that the Tubman redesign would have been released in 2020 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which extended the right to vote to women.

Lew’s plan has now run into a roadblock. The current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that the Tubman bill would not be released in 2020. He has said that the Tubman redesign most likely will not be until 2026 at the earliest. When pressed at a congressional hearing by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) about the redesign of the $20 bill, Mnuchin responded that the Treasury Department was concentrating on anti-counterfeit measures.

Since it is an honor to appear on such widely circulated currency as a $20 bill, I thought it would be worthwhile to look a little deeper at both Jackson and Tubman to compare and contrast. Who were they?

Andrew Jackson was our seventh president, elected in 1828. He gained fame as a general in the United States Army, especially for defeating the British in 1815 in the Battle of New Orleans, insuring that the United States would maintain control of land it acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. He had a reputation for toughness and he earned the nickname “Old Hickory”.

Jackson had an image as a defender of the common man and as someone who fought a corrupt aristocracy. Unfortunately, American history often seems to undergo a sugarcoating where essential truths are obscured or buried. This is certainly true with Jackson as pointed out by the historian, Howard Zinn.

“If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people – not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.”

Andrew Jackson was the most aggressive enemy of Native American people in American history. He considered Native Americans savages. As president, he engineered the forced expulsion of all Native people east of the Mississippi to the new “Indian country”. He had a long military career fighting Indians. In 1801, he took command of the Tennessee militia as a colonel and he drove the Muskogee people out of Georgia. He led four wars against the Muskogee, Creek and Seminoles in Georgia and Florida.

Jackson encouraged white squatters to move onto Indian land. Then he told the Indians that the government could not remove the settlers. His modus operandi was then to tell the Indians they had to cede the land or be wiped out.

In 1814 in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson’s troops killed 800 of the 1000 Red Stick warriors he faced, losing only 50 of his own troops. Jackson’s troops fashioned horse bridle reins from the skin stripped from the Indians killed.

As President, Jackson was able to gain passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Indian removal was Jackson’s top legislative priority and he used the Act to extinguish Indian title to lands in the southeastern United States. The Choctaw, the Seminoles, the Chickasaw and the Cherokee were forcibly removed from their lands.

The Cherokee brought lawsuits and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Cherokees’ favor in 1832 in the case of Worcester v Georgia. Jackson ignored the Court’s mandate which barred Georgia from intruding on Cherokee land. This led to the infamous Trail of Tears, essentially a Cherokee death march in 1838.

Among the Cherokee, an estimated 4,000 people died in the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees lacked adequate clothing and food for the journey. The march began in the winter and many traveled on foot with no shoes or moccasins.

Jackson’s expulsion of Native Americans in the Deep South cleared the way for cotton plantations and the slave economy. Jackson himself owned a 1000 acre cotton plantation located near Nashville Tennessee known as the Hermitage. He was an active slaveholder.

By the time he was elected president he owned 160 slaves. He is the only U.S. president who personally drove a slave coffle.

As for Harriet Tubman, she was born into slavery. In 1849, she escaped. During the following decade she made at least 13 secret expeditions into Maryland to rescue slaves. She led 70 people out of bondage. She is probably the person most famously connected to the Underground Railroad.

Tubman usually travelled at night, guided by the North Star. Her missions were usually in the winter when the nights were longer and people were inside more. Because of her courage and daring, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison nicknamed her “Moses”.

Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 which greatly increased the penalties and risks for Tubman. Bounty hunters pursued fugitive slaves into the North as well as in the South.

On one of her last missions into Maryland, Tubman rescued her aging parents. She had earlier saved her brother. She was a master of subterfuge, carried a revolver, and she knew how to use it. She was an associate and friend of John Brown. She helped recruit men for Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harper’s Ferry.

During the Civil War, Tubman supported the Union forces and served as a scout and a spy for the U.S. Army. She became the first woman to lead an armed assault in that war. In the Combahee River Raid she played a role in rescuing more than 750 slaves.

Later in her life. Tubman became a supporter of women’ suffrage. She travelled widely to speak out in support of women’ right to vote.

Interestingly, the Treasury Department has no records explaining why Jackson ended up on the $20 bill. He has appeared on the 20 since 1928 when he replaced Grover Cleveland. A strong case can be made for his removal from the $20 bill based on his well-documented history of racism toward Native Americans and African-Americans. I think such removal is long overdue.

By any intellectually honest reckoning, this is not a hard call. Harriet Tubman belongs on the $20 bill. Unlike Andrew Jackson, she earned it and deserves it.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 31, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Hi! Really appreciate the history in this article. I knew about Jackson’s soldiers using the horse reins of killed American Indians’ skin, but only through stories from others. Is there a source for this somewhere? I want to speak on it but I want to find a good source when people ask how I know this. My general internet searches haven’t given me much. Thanks!

    • January 31, 2021 at 6:51 pm

      I would recommend the work of Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz who wrote Loaded and An Indigenous Peoples History of the US. She is an excellent source.

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