September 25th, 2021


A true heroine, right on the money

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published April 22, 2016

A lady with a gun deserves better than this. No sooner had Jacob Lew, the secretary of the Treasury, announced that Harriet Tubman, a fearless gunfighter against slavery, would soon replace Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill than snipers on the left turned out in force.

Miss Tubman, who will become the first feminine face on the nation’s currency since Martha Washington graced a coin in a previous century, will join Andrew Jackson on the bill – the lady on the front, the seventh president on the back. The irony seems lost on the Treasury committee that came up with how to shove Old Hickory down the nation’s memory hole.

Miss Tubman carried a long rifle in her self-appointed job as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, conducting 300 slaves to freedom and taking no guff from any white folks who got in her way. But her appointment to the currency can hardly silence the complaints of those who in their ignorance demanded that Andrew Jackson be evicted from the $20 for someone worthier of honor. If Old Hickory was consummate evil, as the ignorant argue, why make Miss Tubman share habitation with “a bad man”?

Donald Trump, with his mastery of how to turn every controversy into something positive for himself, says he thinks putting Harriet Tubman on the currency is “a terrific idea,” but it was done only because it’s a politically correct idea whose time has come to be forced on the wrong currency. He thinks Miss Tubman deserves a bill of her own in another denomination.

The Treasury secretary set off the controversy last year when he announced that the $10 bill, now graced with a drawing of Broadway star Alexander Hamilton, would be redesigned in 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. C-SPAN invited its viewers to suggest a replacement for Hamilton, and the top choices were Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas and Princess Diana. A groundswell began to grow Thursday night for the rock singer Prince, who died at 57 on Wednesday night. The Drudge Report announced the news of his death in purple ink, accompanied by more sidebar stories than a dead president could expect. Is this a strange country, or what?

The Treasury secretary suggests that Hamilton, given his star power on Broadway, will survive on the $10 but he’ll have to share his backside with a selection of suffragettes. He expects little controversy over the selection of Harriet Tubman. The Treasury missed an opportunity to make a strike for diversity and national unity by not revising the $5 bill, continuing with Abraham Lincoln on the front and Jefferson Davis on the back.

“The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 bill was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old,” Mr. Lew says. “I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.”

This is good news. It’s reassuring to know that some of the kids are actually learning something about the history of their country. But President Obama’s minions must be careful with the role-model talk. Miss Tubman packed heat, and was proud of it. The National Rifle Association has a public-relations moment at hand, and should make Harriet Tubman an honorary member of the NRA. Somewhere on a rifle range in the great beyond she would smile. Another honor, this one with no dues.

Naturally, some of our feminists, doomed to a dreary life with men all about them in a dirty rotten world, are not pleased. One Internet blogger who calls herself Feminista Jones delivered a bitter essay that went viral (as bacteria will do), decrying the capitalism, free trade and competition that dishonors Miss Tubman.

“She repeatedly put herself in the line of fire to free people who were treated as currency themselves. She risked her life to ensure that enslaved black people would know they were worth more than the blood money that exchanged hands to buy and sell them. I do not believe that ‘Tubman,’ who died impoverished in 1913, would accept the ‘honor.’”

Other women more conversant with actual history, disagree. “She wasn’t against money,” says Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, a professor of history at Harvard. “She spent it to pry others from slave owners.”

She was born a slave in Maryland “about 1820,” and ran away to Philadelphia in 1849, crossing the countryside at night guided only by the North Star.

She worked as a maid, saving her money, to return to Maryland a year later to retrieve her sister’s family.

She made 19 trips on her own trail of tears with a bounty on her head.

She had courage that a pocketful of greenbacks couldn’t buy.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.