MAccusing people of the 18th or 19th centuries for taking values for granted, which today often appear to be rejectable, does not lead to anything – except for self-assurance of one’s own moral superiority. The victims of the values of the time, however, have no benefit. They are dead.
Nor does it help today’s victims of unjust circumstances. Because history is events that actually happened. At the same time, it is possible to make facts particularly visible that were acceptable to the majority 150 years ago, but are now perceived as hurtful. This also underlines the social progress that has been made since then.
President Biden is now planning to withdraw the $ 20 bills with the image of the seventh US President, Andrew Jackson, among other things because he was a slave owner. But that is true of the majority of the people depicted on US banknotes. George Washington is one of them.
George Washington is considered a progressive and successful freedom fighter. From the idea of breaking away from a monarchy and building a democracy, he shaped a successful state and its institutions – the USA. Everywhere you look in the US you will find honors from George Washington. This ranges from countless monuments and street names to ship names and universities named after him.
“Washington” is the name of one of the 50 states, and the US capital district was named after him while he was still alive – Washington, DC George Washington is depicted on the most famous banknote, the one-dollar bill, and it towers in front of the White House Washington Monument is almost 170 meters high. The mausoleum of the honored first president is located on his nearby estate and retirement home, Mount Vernon, Virginia. It is only a few steps away from the accommodations of its roughly 390 slaves. If one thinks the elimination of history and honors in history consistently to the end, then the honors of George Washington would also have to be made invisible.
Andrew Jackson was a national hero
President Andrew Jackson has also received numerous honors for his services, including his illustration on the $ 20 bill. After his victory over the British in New Orleans in 1815, he became a national hero who was only eclipsed by George Washington. Jackson was the first president from the simplest of backgrounds and founder of Biden’s party, the Democrats.
Many of his political decisions are still formative for the USA today. But many elements of the world and society he accepted in the USA at the time are frowned upon today. This includes, among other things, that on behalf of Congress he waged a bloody war against the natives of Florida, in which many escaped slaves were also killed.
This seems as problematic today as the fact that Jackson kept nearly as many slaves as Founding President Washington. Due to the change in values in the meantime, it would not be conveyable to anyone today, a new Honoring Jackson to decide. The dispute over whether to remove parts of history from the public eye is dividing the United States. But at his inauguration, Biden promised to heal the split in the nation. The implementation of the project started by Barack Obama, instead of Jackson’s now Harriet Tubman Printing on the $ 20 bill will certainly not promote this cure.
There are few women who should be honored as role models for moral courage and democratic engagement as Harriet Tubman. Unfortunately, the great and admirable American is too rarely found in the narratives of German white feminists. After Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849, she became the best-known African American woman on the “Underground Railway”, an organization helping slaves escape.
Despite the considerable risks of being caught and handed over to their former “owner”, Tubman traveled to the southern states time and again to help other slaves escape. When the civil war broke out over the slave issue, she accompanied the troops of the northern states as a cook, nurse – and scout.
In the last years of her life she campaigned for the women’s movement and women’s suffrage. Honoring Harriet Tubman by having her image printed on a popular banknote is a great and worthy cause. And it would tie in with President Biden’s inauguration.
The young colored poet Amanda Gorman recited an inspiring and powerful poem in the presence of the first black person in the vice-presidency. “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president.” In short: Honoring Tubman by depicting it on a banknote would not only be an impressive signal of what individuals can achieve, even without connection to power and money. Most importantly, it would draw attention to how far American society has developed in the 200 years since the birth of the slave Harriet Tubman. And it would be a counter-image for all those who lament our society today as being flooded with unreasonable demands and unbearability.
Still, the Biden administration’s intention does not seem to make sense to depict Tubman instead of Jackson on the $ 20 bill. Born in Tennessee, Jackson still has many admirers in the southern states – probably less because of his slaves, but rather for his services to the region and the country. And in the last election in Tennessee, 60.7 percent of voters voted for Trump and 37.5 percent for Biden. No, such a hard cut will not heal divisions, but rather fit into the Trumpists’ worldview.
However, there are now numerous banknotes that have not been reissued since 1945, including the $ 1,000 note. It is therefore possible to withdraw banknotes from circulation by not printing them anymore. At the same time – as with other currencies – the purchasing power of every banknote is falling continuously. What cost $ 20 a few years ago is $ 25 today.
In this respect, it would make sense to put a 25 dollar note with her portrait into circulation in the coming months for Harriet Tubman’s 200th birthday and, in return, to stop issuing new 20 dollar notes on the 200th anniversary of Andrew Jackson’s death in 25 years . Like the $ 1,000 bill, the $ 20 bill would not lose its validity, but would gradually be found more among collectors than in circulation.
Because regardless of how everyone might feel about Trump and Biden: Healing the split in the USA is one of the most important tasks for this old, but never yesterday’s democracy. And it is an inauguration promise Biden, by which he has to be measured. His administration would be well advised to keep this promise in mind as they put into practice the sensible and right plan to honor Harriet Tubman.
Julien Reitzenstein researches and teaches as a historian on Nazi crimes and the history of ideology. As an author, he considers current political and social developments in their historical context. www.julienreitzenstein.de www.facebook.com/jreitzenstein