By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
I’d recognize Alexander Hamilton just about anywhere. We’re like old friends joined at the hip.
So, when I heard recently that his portrait is going to be replaced on the $10 bill, there were feelings of both annoyance and sentiment, a wallet tradition about to change.
Why, I asked, must the government always be messing with my money?
Well, as it turns out, it’s not the first time, and as I read up on the subject, I concluded that a Hamilton and change might well be worth more than $10.
On June 17, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a woman’s portrait would be featured on a redesigned $10 bill by 2020. The Department of Treasury is seeking the public’s input on who should appear on the new bill, but the leading contender appears to be Harriet Tubman, a former slave who spent much of her life fighting for women’s rights.
I would guess that most people know as much about Harriet Tubman as they do about Alexander Hamilton. We don’t spend much time on history while we spend our money. We’re more focused on simply having the cash. In fact, I wish the government was more thoughtful about making a $10 bill actually worth ten dollars.
However, the history of our currency is important and it’s a reflection of how our nation evolved.
Hamilton was the first treasurer of the United States. He’s one of only two men on modern U.S. currency who is not a former president (Ben Franklin is the other.)
If you look back far enough, you’ll discover that Hamilton wasn’t always front and off center. And sometimes “he” wasn’t Hamilton at all.
The first $10 bill was issued in 1861 and featured Abe Lincoln, who didn’t make it to the $5 bill until 1914. The first $5 bill, also issued in 1861, believe it or not featured Alexander Hamilton.
And, if all that’s not confusing enough, for a time, the $10 bill portrait was that of Andrew Jackson, who now graces the $20.
The shift of presidents and nonpresidents who have graced various bills is staggering. And on the $10 bill they’ve included the likes of Daniel Webster, Salmon Chase and Robert Morris, none of whom are household names today but all of whom were significant government leaders of their eras.
Perhaps we need a woman to straighten out this mess?
The change to the $10 bill is being advanced as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It’s also an opportunity to modernize the physical nature of the bill, incorporating raised elements that will help visually impaired people distinguish the bill. Disability rights groups have sought that change for many years.
Somewhere down the road, new generations will come to appreciate these changes. They’ll forget all about Alexander Hamilton and not think twice about spending a Harriet Tubman on, say, a soda.
At least that’s my two cents’ worth.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He may be reached at [email protected] or (618) 977-6865.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH