Woman on $10 bill: Why replace Alexander Hamilton?

Alexander Hamilton, whose face currently adorns the $10 bill, may be one of the only Founding Fathers of mixed race. Plans have been announced to feature a woman on that currency.

U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing
Alexander Hamilton may be replaced by a woman as the face on the front of the $10 bill, the US treasury announced Wednesday.

A plan announced by the US Treasury to feature a woman on the $10 bill was viewed as a positive step by those who have been pressing for such a move. But it may result in the removal of the figure who some say is the only mixed-race person currently on paper money.

Alexander Hamilton, whose face currently adorns the front of the bill, was raised in the West Indies and clawed his way to the top of the American Revolutionary leadership through the strength of his writing and his political savvy, eventually gaining a place in the first cabinet.

Nowadays he is known for being the first Treasury secretary, as well as being killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.

And some historians have suggested that Hamilton is one of the only Founding Fathers to be of mixed race, with his father or his maternal grandmother being of African descent.

Before the Treasury's announcement this week, much of the focus had been on changing the $20 bill. According to The Washington Post, the group Women on 20s has been campaigning for a woman to replace President Andrew Jackson on the bill because because 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. In addition, Jackson's record has been called into question because of his role in the treatment of native Americans during his tenure as president, the Post said.

After the announcement, some rallied to Hamilton's side, contrasting him with Jackson.

"Sure, [Jackson] is not Literally History’s Greatest Monster, as he is increasingly portrayed. But if someone has to go, by god, it’s Jackson. Not Hamilton. Never Hamilton! Hamilton is a hero. Hamilton built this country with his bare hands, strong nose, and winning smile," Alexandra Pertri wrote in the Post.

Hamilton was a strong “opponent of slavery” and the “truest predecessor” of Abraham Lincoln, wrote Ryan Grim, Zach Carter, and Laura Barron-Lopez in The Huffington Post.

However, the Treasury's move is more logistical than anything else. A redesign of the $10 greenback was already under way so that the bill has tactile features to help the visually impaired, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A final decision on who will grace the new currency design has not been made. The Treasury will be soliciting suggestions and comments through roundtable and town-hall meetings, at the website thenew10.treasury.gov, and on social media through the hashtag #TheNew10.

Hamilton supporters can take heart because it appears he won't go away entirely. Among the options, some of the redesigned bills may still include his portrait, says the current Treasury secretary, Jacob Lew.

The new look for the $10 bill is scheduled to be unveiled in 2020. Among the women candidates that have been suggested are Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller. In a poll conducted by Women on 20s, abolitionist Tubman edged out former first lady Roosevelt. 

“America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for,” Secretary Lew said in a statement. “We have only made changes to the faces on our currency a few times since bills were first put into circulation, and I’m proud that the new 10 will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman.”

The last woman on US paper currency was Martha Washington, who was on the $1 silver certificate between 1891 and 1896, according to ABC News.

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