Sunday, April 24, 2016

Outrage Over Harriet Tubman Replacing Andrew Jackson on $20 is Misplaced

The outrage over slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 is off the mark.  Wikipedia provides this account of Tubman's life:
Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave and hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred
Harriet Tubman
throughout her life. She was a devout Christian and experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.
In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or "Moses", as she was called) "never lost a passenger". Her actions made slave owners anxious and angry, and they posted rewards for her capture. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America, and helped newly freed slaves find work.
When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves...
Is replacing Jackson with Tubman a bow to political correctness?  No doubt.  But that doesn't mean it is also a bad idea.  Tubman deserves to be honored.
I have long believed that you have to judge people according to the standards of the time in which they lived.  Even by that standard, however, slave-owning Jackson falls short.  While no doubt a transformative President, Jackson also forcibly relocated Native Americans in what became known as the "Trail of Tears."  Some ten thousand died from exposure, disease and starvation en route.  Nonetheless, the change in the $20 should be about honoring Tubman, not punishing Jackson via 20-20 historical hindsight.  Our stamps often change to honor various Americans. Why shouldn't our money do so occasionally as well?  The notion that the images displayed on our money should never change is a 20th Century phenomenon that needs to change.
I have no problem with Tubman on the new $20s.  I do though have a problem with the announcement of changes to the other bills in which Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew plans a more blended approach.  The NY Times reports:
While Hamilton would remain on the $10, and Abraham Lincoln on the $5, images of women would be added to the back of both — in keeping with Mr. Lew’s intent “to bring to life” the national monuments depicted there.


Nicolas Martin said...

All is not lost. A rabid racist will still be on the $5 bill.

LamLawIndy said...

While I admire Harriet Tubman, I am disappointed in the decision to remove Pres. Jackson. Jackson was not only the Hero Of New Orleans but also was the 1st president born on the "frontier," slew the Bank of the United States & was the ONLY president to ever pay off the nat'l debt. Yes, he had monstrous faults, but his record -- in totality -- was one that expanded sound money & created a lean federal gov't.