Out with the Old, in with the New? Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

By Chris Carey

Described by some as the worst president of all time, a subjugator and enslaver of Native American and American slaves alike, Andrew Jackson was the first populist president and a widely controversial figure. So why is he on the United States’ $20 bill nearly 200 years after his presidency?

Recent pushes from Americans in and out of government resulted in the Treasury Department announcing that Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad organizer and antislavery activist, would be printed on $20 bills. This announcement, made in 2016, was met by resistance from the Trump administration. 

President Trump made numerous comments through his candidacy and presidency that reflected his great respect and admiration for President Jackson. Regarding the Tubman Twenty, went so far as to say that the change would be “pure political correctness.”

Now, with the Biden Administration in control, there is greater priority to streamline the process and replace the Jackson twenty with one that features Harriet Tubman.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that the White House and Treasury are “exploring ways to speed up” the printing of bills with Tubman’s countenance. 

Harriet Tubman is well known for her role in escorting more than 70 slaves from the South to freedom in the North during her time after her own escape from slavery she was born into in 1822. 

Tubman would be the first Black woman on currency of the United States, and one of the few women, seeing as individuals such as Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea have only been seen on coins. 

Particularly with the civil unrest across the country through 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and ensuing outcries for racial justice, placing Harriet Tubman on a note that is currently occupied by a man who oversaw one of the worst atrocities in US history with the Trail of Tears would be symbolic, powerful, and healing.

“It’s important that our notes, our money—if people don’t know what a note is—reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that,” Psaki said. 

Jackson’s placement on the $20 bill is one that has no real reasoning as far as modern historians can tell. According to a piece by The Washington Post, there is no documentation internally at the Treasury Department or elsewhere that gives a reason for Jackson’s prominence on our currency.

Essentially, a man who today is widely considered at best an influential yet extremely controversial figure in American politics is on one of the most used paper notes for no known reason. 

According to Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, in 2019, the hopeful timeline would have been a Tubman Twenty in 2028; however, with the Biden Administration’s commitment to streamlining the process, it may be much sooner that Americans will be buying lunch with Harriet Tubman and not President Jackson.

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