For the first time in nearly 100 years, the $20 bill is about to undergo a major redesign. Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the face of the bill, and Jackson will move to the back.
The bill has undergone minor design changes over the years, but this will be the first time since 1928, when Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland, that the face of the bill will change fundamentally.
Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew previously announced his plan to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman by 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. But thanks in part to the Broadway hit Hamilton, Americans resisted the redesign and Lew reversed his decision.
Instead, the reverse side of the $10 bill will be redesigned to feature Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, heroes of the women’s suffrage movement.
An organization called “Women on 20s” helped lead the push to put Tubman on the $20 bill after polling the public to see which iconic woman they preferred.
The representation of Harriet Tubman on the $20 is a victory for all Americans. Some on the right claim that the redesign panders to feminists and social justice groups, but Tubman in truth embodied some conservative values, and many common to all Americans, throughout her life.
Tubman dedicated her life to fighting for freedom. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she acted independently to fight for liberty. She had few tools at her disposal, and the government’s Fugitive Slave Law against her, and yet she risked her life to ensure that all within the United States could enjoy basic liberty.
Tubman also supported the idea that gun ownership allows individuals to take responsibility for their own security. She carried a revolver not only for her protection but for the protection of the refugees in her company. Her weapon provided some security against slave catchers, as well as encouragement to those runaways who considered turning back and risking the safety of the rest of the group.
During the Civil War Tubman fought alongside the Union. In her quest for liberty for all, she could not be deterred by the threat of death—she craved liberty over all else.
Tubman saw the fight for freedom not only as a fight for the physical freedom of the slaves, but as a battle for the souls of Americans as a whole. A devout Christian, she acted upon her faith to help redeem a lost nation.
“Her incredible moral and physical courage is an example to all Americans, as is her willingness to act on her Christian faith,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “She is an icon of religious liberty.”
After the North’s victory, Tubman turned her attention to another cause: the women’s suffrage movement. She saw it as imperative to the sanctity of the nation that both men and women have the right to choose their elected officials.
Tubman will be the first woman on an American banknote in over 100 years. While Tubman will not be the first woman ever on an American banknote, as Martha Washington twice graced the $1 bill (first in 1886 on the face and again in 1896 on the reverse side), Tubman will be ending a lengthy absence of historically significant women on American paper currency.
The redesign is a momentous occasion for all Americans. Tubman embodied the American idea throughout her life—the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. She fought to ensure that all in America were free and equal under the law. A champion of individual rights, Harriet Tubman was a true American hero who deserves her place on the $20 bill.