The Jackson/Tubman Debate

 

Which face belongs on the front of the twenty dollar bill?

 

Yesterday afternoon, April 20th, the Treasury Department made it official by stating they will replace President Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the front of the twenty dollar bill with that of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. This follows an on-line poll last year soliciting suggestions for a woman to replace Jackson. Over 600,000 people voted and the results were announced whereby Tubman won, passing former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks.

The selection of Tubman certainly will please women’s activists as well as African-Americans. Tubman’s biography is a remarkable story of survival and determination to free slaves in the South. Frankly, our youth should read about her as it is very inspirational. In addition to being an abolitionist, she was a humanitarian and during the Civil War, a Union spy. When Tubman passed, she was buried in Auburn, NY with semi-military honors. A plaque was hung at the Auburn courthouse noting her achievements. The great Booker T. Washington delivered the keynote address. Many other honors followed, leading to having her portrait replace Jackson’s on the twenty dollar bill.

Although I think the recognition is deserved, I question why her proponents have targeted Jackson. I, for one, do not believe in change for the sake of change, and as someone who has studied Jackson, I do not believe they remember what he meant to the country.

If they studied the Wikipedia description of “Old Hickory,” as well as other sources, they would find an impressive list of achievements:

 

As soldier:

– Served in the Revolutionary War at age 13, informally helped the local militia as a courier.
– Captured by the British and held as prisoner; nearly starved to death in captivity.

 

Legal:

– Served as a country lawyer on the frontier.
– Elected as a delegate to the Tennessee constitutional convention in 1796.
– When Tennessee achieved statehood that year, Jackson was elected its U.S. Representative.
– The following year, he was elected U.S. Senator.
– Appointed a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1798, serving until 1804.

 

Military career:

– Appointed commander of the Tennessee militia in 1801, with the rank of colonel. He was later elected major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802.
– Defeated the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814.

 

As General:

– Victory over the main British invasion army at the Battle of New Orleans, 1815, thereby becoming a national hero.
– Sent to Florida where he deposed a small Spanish garrison, leading directly to the treaty which formally transferred Florida from Spain to the United States.
– Became military governor of Florida while it was being integrated as a U.S. territory.

 

As 7th president of the United States:

– Believed the president’s authority was derived from the people and the presidential office was above party politics.
– Strongly believed in the Union, but was also a supporter of states’ rights.
– In an effort to purge the government from corruption of previous administrations, Jackson launched presidential investigations into all executive Cabinet offices and departments.
– Put down a threat of secession from South Carolina.
– Disposed of the Second Bank of the United States.
– Balanced the budget and got the country out of debt. (As an aside, this was of particular interest to me, as Jackson was one of only a handful of presidents to balance the budget, and perhaps the only one in the 19th century to do so.)
– Settled spoils of war claims with France, Denmark, Portugal, and Spain.
– Made trade agreements with Russia, Spain, Turkey, Great Britain, and Siam (the first in Asia).
– First to recognize the independent Republic of Texas (which was later annexed).
– The “Jackson Era” greatly influenced politics in America for several years after his term of office.
– Jackson was elected twice to office, the last to do so until Abraham Lincoln.

 

Miscellaneous:

– Became the leader of the new Democratic Party.
– Master Mason, becoming the Grand Master of Tennessee.

Jackson was certainly not without his faults. He was censured by the Senate in 1834 as a political move by Henry Clay. He owned slaves on his plantation in Tennessee, and relocated Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi, to quell attacks and stabilize the country, a very controversial move, both then and now.

Even with his faults, Jackson was a giant among U.S. Presidents. He brought peace and prosperity to the country, and made the United States a world power to be reckoned with.
I am not trying to make a comparison between the greatness of Harriet Tubman versus Andrew Jackson, only to remark our 7th president has certainly earned a right to have his portrait on the twenty, and his removal would cause young people to forget his contributions in American history. It may also be an affront to Democrats who may resent slighting their former leader.

How about a compromise? Such as creating a $25 bill with Tubman’s face on it? I always thought a $25 note made more sense than the twenty, e.g.; four bills to make $100 as opposed to five. It would be a clever way to honor two great Americans, and not offend proponents of either of them.

The Treasury Department also announced they plan to move Jackson to the back of the twenty dollar bill which, of course, will ultimately fade into obscurity.

As an aside, if the decision were left to me, Raquel Welch would have been my choice, hands down.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a freelance writer and management consultant located in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. As an avid writer and speaker, Tim discusses everything from business and management, to politics and morality, to systems and technology, and our ever changing world.