Grover Cleveland, who served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, was pictured on the front of the $20 bill for 14 years, until his image was replaced in 1928 by Andrew Jackson.
No one in Washington seems to have a clear idea why Cleveland was booted from the bill, although replacing him with Jackson wasn’t unreasonable given the role Jackson played in American history.
Jackson became a national hero after leading his troops to topple the British at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He was elected as the seventh president in 1828, and his image was added to the currency in 1928 – the centennial year of his election to the White House.
Jackson has been on the bill for 91 years, which is about the age abolitionist Harriet Tubman was when she died in 1913. Tubman, who was born into slavery, was 90 or 91 when she died – the uncertainly coming because of the sketchy record keeping during the age of slavery in the U.S. Besides working to abolish slavery, Tubman personally escorted more 300 people to freedom at extreme personal risk. The reward for her capture in 1856 was $40,000 -- which would translate to more than $1.2 million today.
In 2016, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recommended Tubman’s image replace that of Jackson, who would be moved to the back of the same bill. During his campaign for office, Donald Trump decried that idea as “political correctness.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears reluctant to upset his boss, so he’s put the Tubman idea on the back burner until Trump is out of office.
The last time a woman was pictured on American paper currency was when Martha Washington, wife of the president, appeared on the $1 silver certificate, starting in 1886 until the bill was discontinued by the beginning of the 20th century.
Putting the image of Tubman – a black woman who became an important American historical figure – isn’t politically correct. It’s logical, it’s timely and it would be recognition of the role this woman played in our very complicated past.
We have a proposal: Jackson has been on the front of the $20 bill for 91 years. Tubman deserves a similar run. This honor is long overdue and it should be done in spite of the current president’s disdain and because her legacy will outlive that of many presidents.