Eric Davis: Alexander Hamilton should remain on the $10 bill
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced last week that when the $10 bill is redesigned in the next few years, Alexander Hamilton’s portrait will be taken off the front of the bill, to be replaced by an historically significant woman, yet to be determined. While I am all in favor of putting a woman on the U.S. currency, I do not believe Hamilton is the person whose portrait should be replaced.
Hamilton was one of the most important figures in the early history of the United States. He was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 at which the Constitution was drafted. After the convention adjourned, writing under the pen-name of Publius, he produced nearly two-thirds of the essays that are today known as The Federalist Papers, urging ratification of the new Constitution.
Hamilton’s essays on federal authority, the presidency and the Supreme Court continue to be studied by historians and political scientists. The arguments he made in these writings in 1788 still influence contemporary political debates on the balance between federal and state authority, and the relationships among the branches of the federal government.
Also in 1788, Hamilton was a key figure in the New York state ratification convention. He ensured that New York, a state without whose participation the new republic could not practically exist, would join the new system of government.
President Washington nominated Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. As secretary, Hamilton developed plans for paying off the public debt that had been accumulated during the Revolutionary War years, and put the new nation on a sound financial footing. For all these reasons, his portrait should remain on the $10 bill.
If it were up to me, I would remove Andrew Jackson’s portrait from the $20 bill. Jackson had few doubts about the institution of slavery, and he was responsible for the deaths and forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans during the “Trail of Tears” campaign following passage of his Indian Removal Act in 1830.
Jackson’s economic policies helped create the conditions that resulted in the panic of 1837, a financial crisis that produced a recession that lasted into the 1840s. His two terms as president were characterized by the introduction of the spoils system, widespread corruption, and a vulgar and confrontational style of politics.
I would replace Jackson on the $20 bill with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the most important women’s rights campaigners in American history. Stanton, born in 1815, was one of the few women of her era to be formally educated, first at the Johnstown (N.Y.) Academy in her hometown, then at the Troy Female Seminary, run by Emma Willard of Middlebury fame. In fact, Stanton was the keynote speaker at the 1895 event at which the Troy Female Seminary was renamed the Emma Willard School.
Stanton was the principal author of the “Declaration of Sentiments” presented at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights assembly held in the United States. For more than 50 years, until her death in 1900, Stanton campaigned, for the abolition of slavery in the years before the Civil War, and for women’s rights and women’s suffrage throughout her career.
Although Stanton did not live to see the 19th Amendment added to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote in all states, ratification of this amendment in 1920 brought to fruition one of the goals for which she had worked for so long. Issuing a new $20 bill featuring Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 2020, to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment, would be a most appropriate way of recognizing her significant contributions to American history.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.
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