Mona Charen: Hands off the $10 Alexander Hamilton
They’re coming for our money. OK, that’s nothing new, but this time, the Obama administration is coming for our $10 bills — the notes graced by the image of Alexander Hamilton. True to the identity politics of the Democratic Party, the Obama Treasury Department has announced that some worthy female will replace Hamilton on the currency.
The sheer arrogance, ignorance and stupidity of this move are difficult to capture in one column.
Let’s start with stupidity. If there’s one figure whose face arguably does not deserve to adorn the currency, it’s the man on the $20 bill, not the $10. That is Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, adamant opponent of paper currency (!), friend of slave power and scourge of Native Americans. Who can forget that when the Cherokee appealed their treatment by the state of Georgia to the Supreme Court and won, Jackson refused to enforce the law? Jackson pushed for and signed the Indian Removal Act, which led directly to the forced deportation of nearly 17,000 Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee and others –known as the Trail of Tears. He was fiercely opposed in this by his predecessor, John Quincy Adams, who took the view (in case you’re tempted to argue that Jackson was only doing what was possible at the time) that Indians should be paid for their land if they wished to sell, and that they should be given the protections of the U.S. Constitution.
There was actually a little boomlet to replace Jackson on the $20 bill. Alas, like so much in our era, it wasn’t so much about consigning the flawed Jackson to much-deserved obscurity as about putting a woman’s face on the bill. The “Women on 20s” campaign ginned up some signatures and apparently attracted the approval of the president. But according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the $10 is up for a security redesign, so what the heck. Hamilton who?
Here’s the arrogance: The Treasury Department is downgrading Hamilton, without whom there might not be a United States currency, just because they yearn to check a “diversity” box, and without consulting the American people.
Hamilton was a poor kid from the West Indies who immigrated to New York, joined the patriot army at age 17 or 18 and organized an artillery company, became an aide to Gen. George Washington, authored more than half of the Federalist Papers, and served as the first treasury secretary of the United States, where he structured the finances of our infant republic so that we didn’t drown in debt. He was also a fierce opponent of slavery.
Hamilton belongs in the pantheon of American heroes. Though we’re currently in a fad for the founders — countless successful biographies of Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson have been published and relished over the past couple of decades — our debt to those extraordinary men is bottomless. Besides, only a tiny fraction of the public buys books. Meanwhile, the AP American history exam is being hijacked by progressives to downgrade the greatness of the founders. Hamilton deserves far more than a place on the $10 bill — and he certainly deserves no less.
Finally, ignorance. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen gushes that putting a female on the $10 will tell “young girls across this country … that they, too, can grow up and do something great for their country.” This is tiresome. Girls and women are doing great in America. Girls graduate from high school at higher rates than boys. They attend and graduate from college at significantly higher rates. U.S. Census Bureau data show that in 2012, 71 percent of female high school graduates went on to college, compared to 61 percent of young men. While men’s wages have stagnated for three decades, women’s have been rising. Women outnumber men in the workforce, even in professional, managerial and technical occupations. (Source: “Wayward Sons” a Third Way report.) So, please, spare us the patronizing “female role model” nonsense.
Here’s the solution: Upgrade the security features on the $10, but keep Hamilton in his spot. Dump Jackson from the $20 and hold an essay competition among American high school seniors for his replacement. It would be a great exercise in the appreciation of excellence. Both sexes may be nominated. There are many American women who could be chosen: Emily Dickinson, Harriet Tubman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan B. Anthony? But by announcing in advance that you’re choosing a woman, you’ve guaranteed that the honor will be downgraded to the “best woman” rather than the best candidate. In short, you’d be echoing the Hillary Clinton campaign.