10 dollar bill

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew announced on Wednesday that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will replace the current portrait of Alexander Hamilton from the ten dollar bill, in favor of one featuring both Hamilton and an as-yet undecided woman.

“I’m proud to announce today that the new ten dollar bill will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman,” Lew said in a statement on YouTube. “This historic endeavour has been years in the making.”

Lew will decide by the end of the year which woman will share the bill with Hamilton. The new version of the bill will appear in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which awarded women the right to vote.

The only legal criterion for who should be on the bill is that the person be dead. However, the Treasury told the New York Times that Lew is looking for a woman “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy.”

The push to put a woman on the printed US currency has been in progress for some time. In March, the organization Women on 20s began asking the public to vote for top female candidates to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Among the 15 famous women were Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Clara Barton, and Harriet Tubman. In May, it was revealed that Harriet Tubman edged out First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with almost 34% of the vote.

harriet tubman

It seems strange however that the Treasury chose not only to not replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, but to not replace Alexander Hamilton either. Instead, they chose to sidestep the matter entirely, having Hamilton share his portrait with a reputed female figure. It’s unlikely to satisfy those in groups like Women on 20s.

However, if Lew agrees that Tubman is the best candidate for the bill, she would become the first woman and the first black person to be the face of an American paper currency.

Currently, Lewis and Clark’s expedition guide Sacajawea and women’s suffrage advocate Susan B. Anthony have been featured on unpopular US dollar coins.

“This is a way to literally pay respect to women that is long overdue and can be seen as a step in the right direction toward greater gains in gender and racial equality,” Women on 20s executive director Susan Ades Stone told Business Insider in May.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) introduced legislation in April to put a woman on the $20 bill. In a statement on the Treasury’s announcement she sounded thrilled.

“While it might not be the $20 bill, make no mistake: This is a historic announcement.”

The choice to upend Hamilton’s status on the $10 bill as opposed to replacing President Jackson on the $20 bill is a curious one.

andrew jackson

There were clear reasons to replace Jackson on the bill. Jackson has long been reputed as a deeply flawed character, who owned hundreds of slaves, executed American soldiers for desertion, and, most heinously, oversaw the relocation of native American tribes from lands promised in previous treaties.

The “Trail of Tears,” as it has become known, resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Cherokee alone. Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and other tribes were also forcibly removed.

The reasoning behind changing Hamilton’s status is less clear.

As a founding father of the United States and the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton is hardly the controversial figure that Jackson was. In addition, Hamilton is the architect of the early American financial system, having established a national bank, a system of tariffs, friendly trade relations with Britain, and assumed states’ debts to solidify the nascent union.

For its part, the Treasury has posted an FAQ about the new ten dollar bill. One of the questions addressed: Why the $10 bill and not the $20 bill?

Their answer:

“A number of interesting currency ideas exists. Currency is redesigned to stay ahead of counterfeiting. The ACD Steering Committee recommended a redesign of the $10 note next. The ACD will make its next recommendation based on current and potential security threats to currency notes.”

The debate over who should replace Hamilton is far from settled. Lindborg invited people to sound off on Twitter with the hashtag #TheNewTen.

Here’s the full video of Lew’s annoucement via YouTube:

As reported by Business Insider