In 2016, it was announced by, then secretary of the treasury, Jacob Lew of the Obama administration that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the US 20-dollar note as soon as 2020. It now appears that Jackson, who has been on the bill since 1928, will see at least another seven years as process has been postponed. On May 22nd, it was announced by Steven Mnuchin, the current US secretary of the treasury, that Jackson will remain on the $20 bill until after the Trump administration has left the capital.
Originally, the plan was to release the Tubman $20 bill in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920 and was a major victory within the women’s suffrage movement. However, there were signs that the 2020 deadline might not be made when renderings of potential $20 bills were removed from the Treasury Department’s website in 2017. When responding to questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, Mnuchin stated that they were far more concerned with security features and that those anti-counterfeit issues would be resolved by 2020. As for the imagery on the note, he stated that he’s ‘made no decision’ as to if Tubman should be on the note as previously planned and that that decision would most likely be made by the next secretary of the treasury.
The New York Times has reported that some senior officials of the Treasury Department believe that Mnuchin chose to delay the process so that Trump would not be in office when the bill is release in order to avoid an ‘uproar.’ Given the president’s pre-election thoughts on the matter, that could be a likely reason. In a 2016 interview with the Today Show, Trump responded to news that Tubman would replace Jackson on the $20 bill saying that Jackson ‘had a great history’ and that it’s ‘rough when you take someone off the bill.’ Noting that Tubman was ‘fantastic,’ he hoped that Jackson could be remain on the $20 bill and perhaps Tubman could be relegated to another denomination of currency – he suggested the discontinued $2 bill or another new denomination all together.
Women have rarely made appearances on US currency and when they have, it’s usually been on lesser used coinage. Pocahontas and Martha Washington are the only women to date who have appeared on US notes, which were circulated in the 19th century. Washington was also featured on $1 silver coins in 1886, 1891, and 1896. Susan B. Anthony, a prominent suffragette, is the only other woman to make it onto US currency – she was on $1 coins between 1979 and 1981, and again for a short period in 1999. There have also been talks to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill but due to the Broadway musical, Hamilton’s popularity has nixed that idea. Instead, a series of portraits of prominent females, including Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, are expected to rotate onto the backside of the $10 bill in the future.
Tubman, a former slave, was chosen for the bill due to her integral role in the Underground Railroad after she escaped slavery. In addition to helping many others slaves to freedom, she was an abolitionist, advocate for women’s rights, and worked as a scout for the Union during the US Civil War. Jackson, the 17th president of the US, has sparked controversy due to his role in the forceful removal of Native Americans to the west on what is known as the Trail of Tears and his prolific ownership of slaves.
‘There is no excuse for the administration’s failure to make this redesign a priority,’ says Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire who recently introduced the Harriet Tubman Tribute Act. ‘Sadly, this delay sends an unmistakable message to women and girls, and communities of color, who were promised they’d see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.’