American Currency

The Roar Meter is a weekly story in numbers.

Current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is threatening to scrap plans already in motion to replace slave owner and perpetrator of Native American genocide Andrew Jackson with ex-slave, Union spy, and Underground Railroad worker Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

Here is a brief look at the history of just some United States currency post-Civil War:

  • $1 – The first one-dollar bill was issued in 1862 and featured Salmon P. Chase, an abolitionist lawyer who had run for the Republican nomination in 1860 but lost to Abraham Lincoln, who promptly made him the 25th Treasury Secretary and later nominated him to the Supreme Court. In 1869 he was replaced by George Washington, a founding father, slave owner, and the first President of the United States.

  • $2 – The first two-dollar bill was issued in 1862 and featured Alexander Hamilton, an abolitionist founding father and the first Treasury Secretary. In 1869 he was replaced by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and slaveholder, with an image of his slave-worked plantation Monticello on the back. In 1928, Monticello was replaced by an image of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson co-wrote.

  • $5 – The five-dollar bill has featured featuring Alexander Hamilton (1861 and 1862); Andrew Jackson and a pioneer family (1869); Christopher Columbus and an “Indian Princess” (1870); Ulysses S. Grant (1886); and Grant and Union General Phillip Morgan (1896). It has featured Abraham Lincoln since 1914 and the Lincoln Memorial has been on the back of the note since 1923.

  • $10 – The ten-dollar bill has featured Abraham Lincoln (1861); Daniel Webster, a politician who supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (1869); Ben Franklin (1870); Robert Morris, a founding father and financier who was one of the first people to legally declare bankruptcy (1878); Thomas A. Hendricks, who voted against the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments (abolition, equal protection, and voting rights) (1886); Phillip Morgan (1890); Lewis and Clarke (1901); Michael Hillegas, first Treasurer of the USA (1907); and Andrew Jackson (1914). It has featured Alexander Hamilton since 1928.

  • $20 – The twenty-dollar bill has featured Lady Liberty (1861); an eagle (1863); the Battle of Lexington, Pocahontas and John Rolfe (1865); Alexander Hamilton (1869); Stephen Decatur, a post-Revolutionary Naval hero (1878); recently-assassinated President James Garfield (1882); Treasury Secretary Daniel Manning (1886); former Treasury Secretary and gold standard advocate Hugh McCulloch (1902); George Washington (1905); and Grover Cleveland (1914). It has featured Andrew Jackson since 1928. Of note, it is unknown why Cleveland was replaced by Jackson.

Annika Barranti Klein is a writer, knitter, women’s banked track roller derby referee, and radical homeschooling mother. Her work has appeared at The Toast, The Establishment, and on Book Riot. She is a cis, white, bi-furious intersectional feminist.

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