Saturday, April 04, 2015

Bank On It

Quick quiz: Whose face is on the $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000 bill?  Bonus question: Who’s on the $100,000 bill?

If you answered George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Franklin, William McKinley and Grover Cleveland, you are correct and you may read on.

If you answered Woodrow Wilson to the bonus question by looking in your wallet, you can pick up the lunch tab.

Our currency is adorned with a pantheon of American icons. There is one conspicuous absence, however. A female.

Now, there’s a movement afoot to display the likeness of a woman on our folding money. Two have already adorned our coinage. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea.

It is not without precedent. The likeness of Martha Washington appeared on $1 silver certificates in the late 19th century. But nobody plunks down a couple of Marthas for an Egg McMuffin these days so her fame lacks, ahem, currency.

It seems the winds of change are about to blow Andrew Jackson right off the $20 bill in favor a female. With all due respect to Old Hickory, recognizing the contributions of 50 per cent of our population seems right and proper.

Why Jackson? Unless you hold to the idea that any American President is beyond reproach because of the office he holds, he seems like a good candidate for retirement. 

While he was a hero in the War of 1812, he was also the architect of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a dark event in American history in which as many as 45,000 Native Americans were forced from their ancestral homelands to be settled west of the Mississippi River.

Many suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while going on the route to their destinations. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 of the 16,543 relocated Cherokee died in what was to be known as the Trail of Tears.

Like many of our early presidents, Jackson was a slave owner. He was also a slave trader who, according to one account, was known to wager slaves on the outcome of a horse race.  Starting with nine slaves, Jackson held as many as 44 by 1820, and later held up to 150 slaves. Throughout his lifetime Jackson may have owned as many as 300 slaves.

Unlike other presidents, Jackson holds the distinction of having shot and killed a man in a duel.

Ironically, Jackson detested the idea of paper money and would be appalled to know he is represented on our currency.

Some explain that Jackson was merely a man of his times. But not everyone in the early to mid-19th century engaged in his callous disregard for human rights.

The fact is, nobody seems to know how Jackson ended up on the 20 in the first place (he replaced Grover Cleveland in 1928 who got promoted to the $1000 bill).
An investigation by the Washington Post found little explanation. Even Jackson historians said they didn’t know how or why he was chosen.

The Treasury Department’s website says the department’s “records do not suggest why certain Presidents and statesmen were chosen for specific denominations.”

Apparently, a substantial design change is not subject to Congressional approval. “The Treasury secretary has the authority to unilaterally make this change,” said Susan Ades Stone, executive director and spokesperson for Women On 20s.  
Her group would like to see the change made in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

So let’s throw the rascal out, or off as the case may be.

Who will take his place? Stone’s group lists the candidates as Clara Barton‎, the founder of the American Red Cross; Margaret Sanger‎, who opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S.; Rachel Carson‎, a marine biologist who wrote the hugely influential environmental book “Silent Spring.” Rosa Parks‎, the iconic civil rights activist; Harriet Tubman‎, the abolitionist activist famed for her journeys on the Underground Railroad.

Also, Barbara Jordan‎, a politician who was the first black woman in the south to be elected to the House of Representatives; Betty Friedan‎, feminist author of the “Feminine Mystique.” Frances Perkins‎, the Secretary of Labor under FDR, who was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet; Susan B. Anthon,women's suffrage movement leader; Shirley Chisholm‎, the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

Additionally, Elizabeth Cady Stanton‎, early women's rights activist and abolitionist; Eleanor Roosevelt‎, human rights activist and former First Lady; Sojourner Truth‎, African American women's rights activist and abolitionist; Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to the House, and the first Asian American elected to Congress. Alice Paul‎, women's suffrage movement leader.

Whoever emerges as the leading candidate will undoubtedly undergo a highly political and public vetting process.

Perhaps there should be one more change: The new $20 bill should be redeemable for $15 to underscore the disparity between men’s and women’s pay.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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