Thomas Lucente: Harriet Tubman good choice for $20 bill

By Thomas Lucente -

So the Obama administration will replace the father of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson — a racist, slave-owning, white male and nasty human being who committed crimes against humanity — on the front of the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman — a freedom-loving, gun-toting, suffragist black woman who was a Christian and a Republican.

OK, despite that flippant, but true, characterization, the announcement Wednesday by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew offers many lessons, the least of which is the complete inefficiency of government. The design won’t be unveiled until 2020 (the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote) and the first bills won’t come off the press until at least 2026 and as late as 2030. Only in government does it take a decade or more to produce a portrait.

Perhaps more importantly, as an egalitarian society, we should refrain from placing the faces of people on our currency or building monuments to individuals that tend to get larger and gaudier than the one before, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., so brazenly demonstrates. Putting faces on currency is the act of Caesars, pharaohs and monarchs as well as dictators, leaders (dear, great or otherwise), and führers.

A more appropriate choice would be to place images and icons of liberty or Americana on the bills, such as Lady Liberty, the eagle, bison, etc. This would certainly prove less controversial.

A bigger problem is that Americans seem to care more about whose image appears on their fiat money than the fact that same money is backed by nothing but the “full faith and credit of the United States.” This is the same federal government that is now $19.22 trillion in acknowledged debt (the true figure is somewhere north of $100 trillion).

I have little faith in a government that appears to have little credit, as demonstrated by the nation’s downgraded credit rating after only two years of Barack Obama’s failed presidency.

What’s ironic here is that Jackson was opposed to fiat money and spent a lot of political capital fighting the idea of a national bank. Indeed, he used class warfare — a tactic the Democratic Party has perfected some two centuries later — in his fight against a national bank and paper money.

All that being said, if we are going to put a face on our currency, we could do worse than Tubman. Indeed, we do have worse, including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy and, coming soon (well, in a decade or so), Eleanor Roosevelt and King.

It is unclear why Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland, the last great Democratic president, on the $20 bill, but there are many reasons Jackson should be removed. Given that he is only being moved to the back of the bill, let’s look at why Tubman should be an uncontroversial no-brainer to replace Jackson.

She valued freedom greater than life itself, heeding Patrick Henry’s great words: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

“I had reasoned this out in my mind,” she said when retelling the story of her escape from slavery. “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”

She followed higher-law theory, the idea that laws which violate basic human rights are invalid regardless of what government says. In holding to that view, she risked her life freeing slaves through the Underground Railroad.

She believed strongly in the right to keep and bear arms.

When the War for Southern Independence erupted, Tubman worked as a spy and scout for the Union.

Then, after all that, she set her eyes on the suffrage movement, fighting to allow women to vote and have equal rights under the law. When asked whether she believed women deserved the vote, she replied, “I suffered enough to believe it.”

By Thomas Lucente

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an Ohio attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at, or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an Ohio attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at, or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

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