Appearing on U.S. currency has always been a sign of one’s achievements and contribution to the well-being of the United States. Choosing a person whose presidency matches these requirements is thus an important social concern. However, together with some major changes in social context, including the changes in society’s values and attitudes, certain problems evolve in terms of who as an authority is good enough to be regarded as a hero of the United States history. While some historical figures might be viewed as progressive, taking into account the cultural context they lived in, through the lenses of modern values they might often appear sexist, racist or xenophobic. That is one of the reasons why there are so many popular and scholarly debates regarding the appropriateness of Andrew Jackson portrait on $20 bill. Given that the presidency of Andrew Jackson was closely intertwined with many actions that might be viewed as discriminatory today, his portrait on the $ 20 bill should be replaced by a person whose presidency fits modern values better.
The Indian removals that are associated with the presidency of Andrew Jackson represent the fact that many social groups were excluded from Jacksonian vision of democracy. This fact contradicts modern American values that stress a focus on the importance of creating the social conditions in which every individual would be able to achieve his or her full potential, regardless of his or her race, ethical background, gender etc. It is important to note that the Cherokee constitution that was written in 1827 had the tragic effect of Indian removal. After the representatives of Cherokee tribe appealed to the Supreme Court regarding the forcible removal of Cherokees, the court ruled in the favor of the tribe. Namely, the Court argued that ‘the Cherokee nation is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force’. However, due to the Andrew Jacksons’s position regarding the issue, these words were not translated into action. Andrew Jackson refused the Cherokee’s right to be an independent nation, and officially refused to enforce the verdict. Jackson has made the removal of Indians a state objective. This is further demonstrated by the fact that he convinced a small group of Cherokee to sign the treaty according to which Cherokee lands were the property of the United States. Given that the group that signed the treaty did not represent the desires of Cherokee society-at-large, which is clearly demonstrated in the Letter from Chief John Ross, Andrew Jackson’s actions might not only be viewed as discriminatory, but also as the example of violation of ethical norms. Because of these actions the historical figure of Andrew Jackson, together with his populist claims about democracy receive a lot of criticism.
Jacksonian democracy was very different from the modern understanding of democracy, and this is clearly illustrated by the fact that Jackson completely ignored the rights of women or black people. More specifically, Jacksonian democracy is commonly referred to as a ‘white man’s’ democracy. Andrew Jackson can be viewed as a progressive person due to his efforts channeled into the ‘rise of the common man’, and the emphasis that he placed on the importance of taking into account the interests of people from lower social classes. It is often mentioned by scholars from the respective fields of study that Jackson’s behavior was characterized by his good attitude towards his fellows. However, his presidency lacked the sensitivity to gender and racial issues that was so much needed, given the deeply entrenched system of gender and racial inequality back then. The democracy that he offered was deeply sexist in nature and completely ignored the role of women in the public sphere of social life. Apart from this, at this time of American history abolitionism had already been a common movement in the United States, and the attempts to address the rights of black people were not completely new. Andrew Jackson, however, regardless of addressing the needs of working class people, completely ignored this aspect of the democratic social order. It would thus be logical to assume that Andrew Jackson only addressed the needs of the people who shared his social characteristics, completely ignoring the rights and needs of other discriminated and unprivileged social groups within the United States.
In conclusion, it is important to note that a person who appears on U.S. currency should represent the values, attitudes and beliefs of modern American society that stress a focus on the importance of democracy, equality and justice. The historical figure of Andrew Jackson does not meet these requirements. Andrew Jackson might be viewed as a progressive president only through the lenses of the historical context that he lived in. His efforts channeled into the elimination of the class difference in terms of access to the political power are an important and a much needed contribution to the promotion and the establishment of the democratic ideas. However, the racism and sexism that characterized his presidency prove that Andrew Jackson’s understanding of democracy was limited and discriminatory in nature, and thus does not fit to the modern American context. Therefore, there is a need to replace his portrait on the $20 bill with the portrait of a person whose values, actions and attitudes fit the modern American understanding of the just social order.
- Community Television of Southern California. “Constitution of the Cherokee Nation.” In Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency. 2008.
- Community Television of Southern California. “John Marshall’s Decision on Worcester v. Georgia.” In Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency. 2008.
- Community Television of Southern California. “Letter from Chief John Ross.” In Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency. 2008.
- Meacham, Ion. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. New York: Ransom House, 2008.
- The Independence Hall Association. “American History: From Pre-Columbian to the New Millenium.” 2008.