By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Confirmation one way or the other of the Trump Administration’s plans for the Harriet Tubman $20 Federal Reserve Note has been a long time coming. But on Wednesday, May 22, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin finally announced that the release of designs for any new $20 bill–whether it features Tubman or not–has been pushed to 2028.
Mnuchin’s announcement came in response to questioning by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA7) at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA43). Wednesday’s hearing was a continuation of the Treasury Secretary’s April 9 hearing before the same committee.
“The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues,” Mnuchin said. “Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028. The $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand.”
Change Goes Viral
In 2013, the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD) Committee examined all currently circulating U.S. paper money and, based on a number of factors (such as utility and vulnerability to counterfeiting), the committee decided that the $10 Federal Reserve Note should be redesigned first. With work on the $10 bill already underway, this was the situation at the Treasury Department when the not-for-profit campaign Women on 20s gained traction on social media. The goal of the organization, founded by Barbara Ortiz Howard and Susan Ades Stone, was to place a notable American woman on the $20 bill in time for the 2020 centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
After an online voting process, African-American abolitionist and civil rights activist Harriet Tubman was the winning choice, with 118,328 votes out of 609,090.
The social media campaign and subsequent news coverage convinced the Obama Administration to take action. After some back and forth on which note to redesign, then-Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack Lew announced that plans were underway to place Tubman on the $20.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump made his displeasure about the Tubman redesign well known, calling it “pure political correctness.” And since he was sworn in as president on January 20, 2017, Trump has been tantalizingly non-committal about his administration’s stance on the matter – all while valorizing the current occupant of the front of the $20 bill, seventh President of the United States Andrew Jackson.
On March 26, 2019, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a bill to the United States Senate (S.872) that would require the Treasury to place Harriet Tubman’s portrait on the front of all $20 notes printed after December 31, 2020. At the time of writing, the bill has yet to receive a vote.
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This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Trump is very fond of Jackson, who was criticized for similar social and political attitudes. In addition the idea of putting a woman – not necessarily just Tubman – on our currency gained traction under the Obama administration. That makes it an almost automatic target for reversal, along with thousands of other initiatives that Trump and his followers have reflexively sought out.
I myself prefer designs such as the 1901 $10 US Note. Hamilton and p/c portrait de jure on either side of an animal (or liberty) with either a national landmark such as the Grand Canyon or a symbol of national strength (like an aircraft carrier) on the reverse.
Good idea – I agree with you that we should consider bills that honor symbols of our country’s greatness. While I think Tubman is worthy, so are hundreds of other people, both women AND men. Perhaps honoring something like unique landmarks, the Transcontinental Railroad, the space program, etc. etc. might be far less contentious than again heading down the path of choosing one individual over another. E.g. Canada has issued some beautiful bills that featured animals, authors, landscapes, and so on.