Updated | 7:04 p.m. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has decided that a redesigned $20 bill will feature a portrait of Harriet Tubman, a Treasury official confirmed to The Intercept on Wednesday.
When he explained the decision in a post on Medium later in the day, Lew revealed that the change was part of a sweeping redesign of several bills, which will also see “five heroes of the women’s suffrage movement” honored on the $10, and “historic events at the Lincoln Memorial” depicted on a new $5.
The secretary had originally announced last year that the first United States note to feature a portrait of a woman would be a new $10 bill, but apparently reconsidered following a dual backlash from women who considered the larger bill more appropriate and fans of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant whose life is celebrated in the popular rap musical, “Hamilton.”
The decision to honor Tubman, a former slave who helped thousands of others to escape bondage in 19th century America, triggered an outpouring of satisfaction on social networks, in large part because of the symbolic shift from the president she will displace: Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was the slaveholding president who signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the death of thousands of Cherokees along the Trail of Tears as they were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia.
Every time someone pays with a $20 bill they're going to have to think about slavery. NICE.— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) April 20, 2016
Harriet Tubman fought in the Civil War, was a Union soldier-spy, & even received a pension (after pushing for it). She should be on the 20— Lawrence Brown (@BmoreDoc) April 20, 2016
Rumors that Hamilton would not be removed from the $10 were fueled last month by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and star of the Broadway musical about the first Treasury secretary. Miranda said that he had pressed Lew to keep Hamilton on the note.
No, I won't feel comfortable using a $20 bill with the face of a woman who was once considered currency herself. You may disagree.— FJ (@FeministaJones) April 20, 2016
As the reaction spread across social networks, coming to dominate Twitter’s global trends, there was an almost instant backlash to the backlash.
People pledging they’ll never use a Harriet Tubman $20: Have fun at the ATM.— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) April 20, 2016
NEWSFLASH: ALL Racist who will no longer want their Harriet Tubman $20 bill pls let me know...we will gladly take them off your hands! LOL— GAPeach (@PoliticsPeach) April 20, 2016
The decision was welcomed by both Democratic candidates for the presidency, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, who joked last year that perhaps his daughter Ivanka should get the honor, before agreeing that Rosa Parks would be a good choice, did not immediately respond to the news.
Among the few dissenters, Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate, called Jackson, “a tremendous secretary — I mean, a tremendous president,” and suggested that it would be more appropriate to honor Tubman on the little-used $2 bill.
Still, some conservatives took comfort where they could, even if it meant distorting Tubman’s politics in bizarre ways.
Yoni Appelbaum, the Washington bureau chief of the Atlantic, pointed out that the sum of $20 figured prominently in Tubman’s life, according to an episode recounted by her first biographer, Sarah Hopkins Bradford, in which she pleaded with an abolitionist to give her money to buy the freedom of her parents.
2. Tubman had an intimation that her parents, still held as slaves in Maryland, were in trouble. She needed funds to effect their rescue.— Yoni Appelbaum (@YAppelbaum) April 20, 2016
6. “I want twenty dollars,” Tubman said. Now, she’ll be on all of our $20 bills.— Yoni Appelbaum (@YAppelbaum) April 20, 2016