$20 bill in need of a new face

The continued use of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill is a disservice Andrew Jackson became the face for the double sawbuck in 1928, an apparently better option than previous portrait-bearer Grover Cleveland, whose legacy is a barely-remembered footnote in the face of U.S. history. However, Jackson’s legacy as Old Hickory the war hero should be suitably tarnished by his call for the removal of Native Americans from the southeastern United States. In an 1829 speech, Jackson called for the removal of tribes that had long thrived in the Georgia-Mississippi area, tribes that had been referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes. These tribes had been referred to as civilized by Western European standards. The paternalistic nature of choosing which tribes were “civilized” aside, Jackson did not care.

Jackson’s rationale for supporting what would become the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was that the tribes were not sovereign nations—and therefore could not be treated as such—but were still subject to the laws of the United States. The precedent set by the Supreme Court decision for Johnson v. M’Intosh, that the Native Americans did not hold title to the land they occupied, only assisted the fervor to displace them. With the support of white Southerners who were eager to settle the new land that had once been home to the civilizations they were willing to grant such a luxurious status aside, the Indian Removal Act passed within two months. The ensuing events should be a known tragedy in the minds of Americans.

The displacement of the tribes from their homes is known as the Trail of Tears, a term typically used today to refer to the displacement of all five tribes. The Trail is not misnamed, as a quarter of the people displaced died along the way. The Seminole attempted to fight back, resulting in the second of what are referred to as the Seminole Wars, but they too were forced to new Indian territories determined by the U.S. government.

The Indian Removal Act and the subsequent Trail of Tears are nothing less than acts of systematic persecution. The independence of a civilization was not a focal point of debate in the minds of those who were eager to settle. The economic prosperity of subsequent settlers was founded on the removal and mass deaths of people whose lives were a whim in that moment. Integration, a policy Jackson initially supported, was not a long-term goal. To the people who see Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill, perhaps this does not matter. To the people whose ancestors died and lost their lives because of Jackson, it matters.

As to who may replace Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill, perhaps Sacagawea could be relegated to a loftier position than a one-dollar gold coin barely in circulation and often kept a curio. Perhaps Lyda Conley, the first woman of Native American descent to argue before the Supreme Court, is also a fantastic option. The continued use of Jackson, someone who today would be under international scrutiny and criticism for something so cruel and callous, is almost laughable.

Besides, Jackson hated the idea of paper money. Who in the Treasury thought placing him on the bill was a great idea?