Hours after the Treasury Department announced its plans to revamp a number of U.S. paper bills with depictions of African American and female civil rights icons, conservatives started criticizing the move as “politically correct” and “unnecessary.”
The Treasury’s new plan places abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 while relegating former President Andrew Jackson to the back. Meanwhile, the $10 bill will still feature Alexander Hamilton but include a mural of female suffragist leaders on the back of the bill. Images of Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marian Anderson will also be added to the back of the $5.
Speaking on the Today Show, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump argued against the move to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 with Harriet Tubman.
“Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country,” he said. “I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic. I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination, maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill.” He went on to call the change “pure political correctness.”
Jackson, the country’s seventh president, has a more troubling record than Trump suggested. He built his wealth through his ownership of hundreds of slaves. He called for the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands in the Southeast and later signed the Indian Removal Act that created the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Native Americans died and many more suffered from hunger and disease. That, in turn, was meant to clear land for even more slave plantations.
Many of his economic decisions were similarly catastrophic. He advocated for limited government that starved crucial infrastructure projects of funding. He also opposed central banking while supporting the gold standard balancing the federal budget. His actions led to a bubble and then a massive recession when it popped.
But other prominent conservatives publicly share Trump’s desire to keep Jackson on the front of the $20 and relegate Tubman to a different bill. On Wednesday, former presidential candidate Ben Carson defended Jackson, calling him “a tremendous president… Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually balanced the federal budget where we had no national debt.” While he professed to love Harriet Tubman, he suggested “we can find another way to honor her. Maybe a $2 bill.”
But putting Tubman on the $20 bill in particular is a significant move because it is a widely used bill. There were 8.6 billion of them in circulation last year, making up more than a fifth of all bills in circulation. In contrast, there were just 1.1 billion $2 bills, less than 3 percent.
The sentiment came up again in a short segment from Fox host Greta Van Susteren Wednesday night. Calling the move by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew “awful,” “dumb,” and “stupid for no reason,” she argued he’s “creating a fight, a completely 100 percent unnecessary fight” with the bill change.
While she said that, as a feminist, she wants to see women like Harriet Tubman honored, she suggested, “Rather than dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency and happen to want Andrew Jackson to stay put and those who want to put a woman on the bill… We could put a woman on a bill…give Tubman her own bill, like a $25 bill.”
There is as of yet no such thing as a $25 bill; Lew dismissed the creation of such a bill in his announcement.
Van Susteren may see putting a woman on the $20 as unnecessary. But it comes after a campaign that spurred an outpouring of support to get a woman on the bill because so few women have appeared on U.S. currency. A woman has only graced the front of a paper bill once and even then briefly: Martha Washington was on the $1 silver certificate for a decade in the late 1800s. Native American Pocahontas was on the back of the $20 bill for a short period in the 1860s; more commonly, women have been put on coins.