In the April 17, 2015 publication of the Iowa State Daily, an online public pole was conducted. The pole question asked, “Who would you like to see on the new $20 bill?” The options were Wilma Mankiller, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, somebody else, or maintain the status quo. Not surprisingly, more than 50 percent of participants voted to maintain the status quo; that is, keep President Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill.
In contrast, Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt tied for second and received 13.9 percent of the votes followed by Rosa Parks who received 8.3 percent of the votes, and Wilma Mankiller who received 1.4 percent of the total votes.
This outcome proposes a few fascinating questions and an introspective dilema. When Iowa State students vote for maintaining the status quo, are they aware of who they are voting for and what their votes respresent? Are they aware of the practices of President Andrew Jackson as a slave owner and guardian of the Lockean system of liberty – the dichotomy of American Exceptionalism? Are they aware of the great feats and sacrifices of Harriet Tubman and the hundreds of people she helped to save from bondage, that reprehensible – dishonoralbe and disgraceful – practice of America’s historic system of slavery?
Iowa State students exchange “Jacksons” on a daily basis for liquid stimulants – coffee, cappuccino, and other bevarages – and of course beloved pastries. The long lines are a regular occurrence between classes at the campus coffee shops. But what is not evident or realized is who resides on that piece of tender during each transaction. Andrew Jackson was not only the 7th president of the United States, but he was also a staunched advocate of slavery and the preservation of slavery; that is, the exploitation, marginalization, and cutural imperialism of human property – chattel. To add context, Jackson’s administration presided over the federal government from March of 1829 to 1837.
During this time, slavery had already been constitutionally established in the southern United States and Black Codes, some of the earliest forms of anti-immigration legislation, were being ratified and implemented and supported constitutionally in the northern United States. Although such legislation emerged before Jackson’s presidency, many pieces of legislation were codified during his presidency, and well after his presidency. For example, Illinois passed anti-immigration, “Black Codes,” legislation in 1819, 1829, and 1853; and Indiana approved and passed their own anti-immigration laws in 1831 and 1852. In addition, newly formed terriotories west of the Ohio river also passed such legislation – the Michigan territory in 1827 and the Iowa territory in 1839 and 1851.
Not only did Jackson’s administration stand by diligently while Americans were being systematically invaded and evicted from their homes, schools, businesses, and churches by rioting white mobs and codified legislation in Cincinatti in 1829 and 1836, but he and his administration remained on the sidelines while “Whites destroyed newly opened schools for blacks in Zanesville in 1837,” as historian Douglas Harper illustrates. Jackson himself was the proud owner of hundreds of slaves over the period of decades. As Matthew Warshauer explains in his paper Andrew Jackson: Chivalric Slave Master, “[Jackson] never questioned the morality of slavery…he supported the constitutionality, and he had harsh words for those who attempted to incite revolt through abolitionist publications…[Jackson also] viewed slavery as a means of economic enrichment and a way to establish himself in the aristocratic planter class.”
To elucidate Jackson’s philosophy of white supremacy, “[Jackson’s administration] embraced the racial tenets of ‘herrenvolk democracy,’ which affirmed the equality of whites and their superiority over non-whites,” illustrating unwavering support for southern institutions of slavery, and anti-immigration legislation in the northern and northwestern states and territories, i.e., the embedded hegemony. There is no doubt that President Andrew Jackson is the epitome of the dichotomy of American Exceptionalism.
Conversely, Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery, eventually freed herself and became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. During the civil war, she spied and scouted for the Union Army, and in many instances led missions to free slaves. After the war, she became prominent in the suffrage movement and contributed greatly, in her actions as an informal leader, to the eventual passing of the 19th Amendment.
This came by way of her self-sacrificing actions of freeing herself, freeing hundreds of slaves, serving a country that did not recognize her right to vote nor her place as a human being, nor did it recognize her right to take part in the political process by way of agenda setting or passing legislation. She also continued her struggle for freedom and liberty by way of her speeches and continued actions of support and leadership for suffrage throughout her life. She was, still is, and always will be, an unquestionable example of American Enlightenment and thought. Tubman’s philosophy that all people without exception were, and are, equal is a testament to her exceptionalism.
Harriet Tubman is the epitome of American sacrifice and American character. When one thinks of what it means to be American, the very first thought ought to be Harriet Tubman. One ought to ask herself, “Who is the example that ought to be followed? Someone who perpetuated a system of ‘herrenvolk democracy’ or someone who represents patriotic heroism, democracy and freedom, and liberty for those with no voice?” The answer says much about who America is and what it represents and supports.
Voting for the status quo maintains and justifies the actions of a hegemonic dominion of oppression; that is, white, straight, male, and perceived Christian; whereas, voting for the great American Harriet Tubman, or Wilma Mankiller, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Rosa Parks, illustrates the growing consciousness of the American public, specifically the Iowa State student body. Voting for Tubman illustrates a paradigm shift and a recognition of who is considered a hero, who is considered a great American, and who is worthy to reside on our currency, because when our currency is exchanging hands, it is acknowledging who America was, who America is, and who America wants to be.