The ongoing Women on the 20s campaign has been putting pressure on President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to Remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill. However, it turns out that the United States Treasury Department had another target: Alexander Hamilton. While removing Old Hickory from our nation’s currency would be a travesty, diminishing Hamilton is a disgrace.
The Treasury Department announced on June 17, that Hamilton would be replaced and diminished on the $10 bill in order to feature a woman to be announced at a later date. The goal is to have new bills out by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote.
“Our democracy is a work in progress. We’ve always been committed to a more perfect union,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said according to CBS News. ”This decision to put a woman on the $10 reflects our aspirations for the future, as much as it is a reflection of the past.”
Secretary Lew said that Hamilton might not be outright replaced, but may be featured in a diminished role or on a limited number of bills. However, whether removed or diminished, shoving Hamilton aside on American currency is a slap in the face to the man often regarded as the father of the American financial system. Hamilton was arguably the greatest, and certainly most consequential, treasury secretary in American history. His statue in Washington D.C. stands right in front of the Treasury Department, which now insults his memory.
Hamilton is in the elite pantheon of the founding generation. He was born on the West Indies island of Nevis, and as a poor orphan learned about money and finance while working as a clerk on the docks of the tiny island. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and was quickly recognized for his prodigious intelligence.
Hamilton had the remarkable fortune of coming to America in the midst of its revolution—though it may be more accurate to say that the young United States had the remarkable fortune of having this young, incredibly-gifted individual at the right time. He received a truncated and highly accelerated education at Kings College, now known as Columbia University in order to reflect the republican age. Hamilton, a young prodigy, quickly found himself scooped up by the Continental Army and served as one of George Washington’s top aides.
During his tenure with the Continental Army, Hamilton spent his extra time focusing on how to build the American nation and how to put it on strong financial footing. Hamilton performed well during his time in the military, and eagerly received one combat assignment to storm redoubt number 10 at the famed Battle of Yorktown. But as good a soldier as Hamilton became, he was an even greater statesman.
Representing the State of New York at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton insistently pressed for the adoption and ratification of America’s governing document. Other than James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, and perhaps John Rutledge few men left as much imprint on the Constitution than Hamilton. He collaborated with Virginia’s Madison and fellow New Yorker John Jay on the Federalist Papers, and it is believed that he wrote about 2/3rds of what is easily the most important source in the history of Constitutional law.
Hamilton was one of the most accomplished men in America even before becoming the first United States Treasury Secretary. He had gained the confidence of the Father of Our Country, had been instrumental in creating a new national government, and was now ready to embark upon the creation of the country’s financial system. Hamilton was so prominent and revered in his adopted home of Manhattan, that many began to call New York City “Hamiltonopolis.”
Hamilton was one of the few men in America who had the knowledge and expertise to create a robust national financial system. His Report on Manufactures and Report on Public Credit delivered to Congress were phenomenal and instructive state papers that disarmed and stunned his political opponents. He performed incredibly, and under immense political pressure from those like Thomas Jefferson who distrusted what they saw as corrupt schemes emanating from the Treasury Department and Hamilton’s pet project, the First National Bank.
Despite opposition and fears that Hamilton had corrupted the Federal government, few have run the department with such care and integrity.
When Jefferson was elected president, he immediately sent his own treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, into the department to uncover as much corruption as possible. Gallatin, who was perhaps America’s second-greatest treasury secretary, opposed many of Hamilton’s policies.Yet, when Gallatin investigated the department he was stunned about what he found.
Hamilton biographer Ronald Chernow recounted what Gallatin said to Jefferson in his book Alexander Hamilton:
“Well Gallatin, what have you found?” [Jefferson asked]. I answered: “I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders, committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.”
Chernow wrote that “Gallatin complimented Hamilton by saying that he had done such an outstanding job as the first treasury secretary that he had turned the post into a sinecure for all future occupants.”
Though Jefferson opposed Hamilton and many of his principles, he nevertheless had a grudging respect for such a great man. Today a bust of Hamilton sits in the front hall of Jefferson’s historic home of Monticello, where Jefferson placed it. Jefferson wanted to face the man he had tangled with for most of his political life.
The system of American finance, in its infancy at the time of the Revolution, grew and flourished under the system Hamilton created. Hamilton’s greatest biographer, Forrest McDonald, wrote of the profound influence of this Founding Father in his book Alexander Hamilton: A Biography: “…the United States was spared the fate of every other republic that was established on the American continents. Instead it became what Hamilton dared dream it might become—the richest, most powerful and freest nation in the history of the word.”
That the Treasury Department under Secretary Lew would so shamelessly ditch the man who truly made it great is an embarrassment. Americans should be outraged that a man as crucial as Hamilton to our country’s history and existence is being so thoughtlessly shunted aside for the insistent campaign that a woman be placed on American currency.
Nobody would have been more angry about Hamilton’s replacement than the women in his life, who always defended his name and honor, even long after he had been killed in the infamous duel with Aaron Burr.
Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, whom many called “Betsey,” kept a bust of Hamilton in her front parlor, which she cherished all of her long life. Even decades after her husbands death, she defended his name and reputation at every opportunity and never ceased to admire him.
Historian Chernow recounted how a few year’s after Betsey’s death, her daughter Eliza Hamilton Holly became angry at her brother for not completing their father’s biography sooner. Holly wrote stirringly what should be a clear message to the Treasury Department and all modern Americans: “When blessed memory shows her gentle countenance and her untiring spirit before me, in this one great and beautiful aspiration after duty, I feel the same spark ignite and bid me… to seek the fulfillment of her words: ‘Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.’”
Hamilton is buried at Trinity Church in New York City, in the shadow of One World Trade Center. His gave reads:
The PATRIOT of incorruptible INTEGRITY
The SOLDIER of approved VALOUR
The STATESMAN of consummate WISDOM
Long after this MARBLE shall of moldered into dust
Americans must forcefully push to correct this injustice done to Hamilton and forcefully advocate to restore his visage front-and-center on the $10 bill. That is, if we are still a grateful posterity.