Biden Administration Moves to put Harriet Tubman on the Front of the Twenty Dollar Bill

Written by Skylar Shipp (News Writer)

The effort to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill began in 2016, under the Obama administration but it was put on hold during the Trump presidency. With the new Biden administration, the effort has been restarted. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes…It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.” (New York Times)

Other possible changes include modifications to the reverse of the $5 and $10 bills, like those shown above. On the $5 bill draft, we see on the far-left, Eleanor Roosevelt. To her right is Marion Anderson, a singer who performed at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied a spot at Constitution Hall due to her race. On the far-right, we see Martin Luther King and the March on Washington. The reverse of the $5 bill is obviously a celebration of the Civil Rights movement. On the $10 bill, we see a celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Featuring, from left to right, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth C. Stanton, and Alice Paul. Behind them, we see a letter written to Congress arguing for Women’s Suffrage.

It’s easy to get excited at the possibility of changes to our bills, but it’s important to remember that these are major changes being proposed, and it will be very difficult to implement modifications such as these.

“As with our nation’s coinage, the Secretary of the Treasury usually selects the designs shown on United States currency. Unless specified by an Act of Congress, the Secretary generally has the final approval. This is done with the advice of Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) officials.” (US Treasury)

While the process may seem simple, in the current political climate, it is likely that Congress will involve itself in the process and the Treasury Secretary would probably not act against the wishes of Congress. If the issue reaches Congress, we are likely to see a whole host of issues change how representatives vote. Social stances of members of Congress will undoubtedly influence the results, but we will also probably see other pressures for representatives to vote a certain way. For example, the $1 has not been redesigned for over 75 years, partially because of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which lobbies for vending machines (New York Magazine). 

Additionally, many other redesign proposals have failed. Including efforts by Republicans to Replace the portrait of Hamilton on the $10 bill with one of Ronald Reagan. They had also attempted to swap Jackson’s portrait with one of Reagan, which obviously failed. We haven’t had a portrait changed since 1928 when Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland (New York Magazine), which means an actual change to the $20 anytime soon would be surprising. Furthermore, the redesign of a bill takes years, if not decades, and there can be a lot of unexpected resistance to proposed redesigns. Much of the delay is caused by security concerns that come with any redesign of a currency, especially one as ubiquitous as the US Dollar. While the thought of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is exciting to many, it is unlikely to be happening anytime soon, if at all.

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