The United States Treasury announced that it is redesigning $5, $10, and $20 bills. The final redesign will be presented in 2020. In 2016, President Obama had requested the Treasury Department (which the President runs) to place women and civil rights activists on prominent places on U.S. bills. In response to his request, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew began a process that has been controversial. The most significant change will be on the $20 bill. The image of Harriet Tubman will replace the image of President Andrew Jackson on the front of the bill, and Jackson will be featured on the back of the bill.
The Current $20 Bill and Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson is currently featured on the front of the $20 bill, and from the early 1800s until about the 1960s, nearly all Americans considered him a hero. Andrew Jackson had fought as a young teenager in the American Revolution, was caught, and suffered a sword injury because of his stubborn refusal to obey a British officer to clean his muddy boots. He rose in ranks in the American Army, and earned the nickname of “the Second George Washington” in the War of 1812 because of his crucial role in soundly defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson defeated Indians in a series of battles over many years, and he captured Florida from Spain.
The American people overwhelmingly elected Andrew Jackson President twice, and he served from 1829-1837. Andrew Jackson is considered as the founder of the modern Democratic Party. He was one of the most popular Presidents ever elected, and he was the first President who related well with the common man. Jackson was the first born in a log cabin, west of the Appalachian Mountains. He promoted the idea that the people should vote for electors, and historians call this period in history “Jacksonian Democracy.” As President, he vetoed the National Bank, and some think this kept America from having an elite that controlled everyone.
In the 1960s and 1970s, some Americans began to rethink the idea that Jackson was an American hero. They point to Jackson’s strong support for the Indian Removal Act (1830). The Indian Removal Act was a law that forced Indians to move west to Oklahoma. The law gave the President authority to forcefully remove Indians, take their land, and resettle them. Though the Supreme Court ruled that this law was unconstitutional, Jackson and subsequent Presidents enforced it.
From 1830–1850, around 60,000 Indians were forced to move west into present-day Oklahoma. Many of the marches west were under the bayonet of the American soldier. Because some of the marches were carried out in inhumane ways, from 7,000 to 15,000 Indians died while moving west. “The Trail of Tears” is a name that historians give to one or more of these removals. It is because of Jackson’s policy towards Indians that many Americans do not think he was an American hero.
Was Jackson an American Hero?
The question about Jackson being an American hero should be asked in its historical context. During the time of Jackson, America was a new country, fighting for its survival. Had Great Britain won the War of 1812, the United States of America would have become part of Britain’s empire and would have lost its independence. Jackson was a main reason America won the war. Jackson promoted the idea that every citizen should vote for the President, and he was loved by nearly all. He founded the modern Democratic Party, and wanted government to represent average Americans, not just the powerful.
Some think Jackson’s policy of removing Indians west was genocide, and some say that Jackson was evil because he owned slaves. Genocide means when a government tries to kill all people from one religious or ethnic group. Removing the Indians west was brutal and Americans killed Indians because the forced marches were harsh, but there never was an American policy to kill all Indians. It is true Jackson owned slaves. While our society rightfully believes that slavery is an evil, it used to be seen as normal.
The New $20 Bill
On the new $20 bill, the image of Harriet Tubman will be on the front, and Andrew Jackson’s image will be on the reverse. Who is Harriet Tubman? Was she an American hero? Is there any debate regarding her past, like with Jackson? Read our next article, “Redesigning the $20 Bill, Part II” to find out!
- What is happening to the $5, $10, and $20 bills? Why?
- Is it correct for one Presidential administration to change the designs of American bills?
- What evidence is there that supports the argument that Jackson is an American hero?
- What evidence is there that supports the argument that Jackson was evil?
- In your opinion, is Jackson an American hero? Should he be removed from the face of the $20 bill? Explain your answer.
By John De Gree of The Classical Historian, www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.