We are often reminded that “elections have consequences.” It certainly appears that was the case in Montana when on her way to being the first woman elected to Congress, the ego of one of Jeannette Rankin’s 1916 primary election opponents was so damaged by his loss to a woman, that he committed suicide. Really.
Rankin was among the best-known women in America as a result of her election to Congress. She was in the national news in 1941 when hers was the sole congressional vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor. She was a front page figure again in 1968 as the leader of the “Jeannette Rankin Peace Brigade” of thousands of women protesters against the Vietnam War.
With great interest now in placing a woman on our currency, Montana Sen. Steve Daines has introduced legislation that would confer that honor on Rankin. Daines should be particularly commended because Rankin was not philosophically like him. Daines is a proud conservative Republican, while Rankin described herself as “An American first, a Progressive second, and a Republican somewhere down the line.”
Perhaps the more controversial question is – on which money? The currency scheduled for change is the ten dollar bill, which features the likeness of America’s great first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Described by his recent biographer, historian Ron Chernow as “the principal designer of the federal government, the catalyst for the emergence of the two-party system … Alexander Hamilton was arguably the most important figure in American history who never attained the presidency.” Hamilton should remain on our money.
An article in Forbes magazine last year declares that among the nation’s founders, “Hamilton was the brilliant dynamo. He was not only General Washington’s most able and trusted aid in the Revolutionary War, but he also wrote most of The Federalist Papers, ensuring the Constitution’s ratification. He also restructured the nation’s finances, established a sound dollar, and helped shape Washington’s realist foreign policy.” With the economic and foreign problems facing our country today, it would be great to have Hamilton back.
The same cannot be said of Andrew Jackson. The figure on the twenty dollar bill is famous for his appalling lack of economic understanding and for his general bellicosity. He didn’t just disagree with political opponents, he viscerally hated them. On one occasion he publically threatened to personally hang his own former vice president. His treatment of American Indians was murderous and heartless in the extreme, even to the point of ignoring a decision of the Supreme Court so he could continue his policy of forced removal of Indians from their legitimately owned lands. The result was the thousand-mile “Trail of Tears” on which many, especially children, predictably died of exhaustion and starvation.
Jackson was notable for courageously facing down those who believed in the destructive ideas of nullification and secession, and so perhaps set back the Civil War for 30 years. But, according to his personal secretary and close confidant, Nicholas Trist, Jackson may have gone to his grave actually believing the world was flat.
The consequence of Daines’ legislation should be the replacement by Jeannette Rankin of Jackson on the twenty, not Hamilton on the ten.
Former Montana secretary of state
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