Treasury Saves $10 Hamilton

Illustration of Hamilton being rescued

The Fall 2015 issue’s “Alumni Corner” was an essay by Bob Orkand ’58, “Who Needs Change for a $10 Bill?”, which argued that Alexander Hamilton (Class of 1778)’s image should remain on the $10 bill and a better option would be to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with “a deserving woman — perhaps Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks or Eleanor Roosevelt.” In April, the Treasury Department reversed its position and decided to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill and replace Jackson’s image with that of Tubman.

While we don’t underestimate the reach of this publication and would like to take credit for the change, it’s entirely likely that a certain eponymous Broadway musical — which garnered a record 16 Tony Award nominations and was named “Best Musical of the Year” on June 12 — had somewhat more to do with raising the collective consciousness about Hamilton and his role as a Founding Father.

In view of these developments, Columbia College Today invited Orkand — who entered with the Class of 1954 but was drafted into the Army before graduation, retiring as a lieutenant colonel of infantry and later as president and publisher of Knight Ridder’s newspaper in State College, Pa. — to provide an update to his essay.

The yearlong duel between Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — 76th to hold that office — and Alexander Hamilton, who created the post and was its first occupant, ended with a ceasefire in late April as Lew capitulated under a withering barrage of criticism from all sides.

Hamilton walked away from Treasury’s assault with his reputation intact and with thousands of newfound admirers who had seen or heard about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton at the Broadway theater named for Richard Rodgers ’23. The musical is based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton.

Treasury’s revised plan calls for Hamilton to retain his starring role on the $10 bill while slave owner and slave trader Andrew Jackson gets shunted off the front of the $20 bill. Jackson’s place will be taken by Harriet Tubman, the African-American abolitionist who helped lead the Underground Railroad that enabled 19th-century slaves to escape to free states or to Canada. Tubman deservedly claims her place on the front of the $20 bill, while “Old Hickory” gets bumped to the rear of the bus.

You might recall the altercation began in 2013 when Lew announced that an anti-counterfeiting redesign of the $10 bill was commencing. But when reports surfaced that Hamilton was slated to be offed, Lew began to feel the heat. An online organization called Women On 20s had already begun campaigning for a woman to replace Jackson on the $20 bill and used its influence for a woman to be featured on the United States’ paper currency for the first time since Martha Washington’s visage appeared on a $1 silver certificate in the 1880s.

In addition to keeping Hamilton alive on the front of the $10 bill, the reverse side, currently the Treasury Department building at 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. (just down the street from the White House and featuring a large statue of Hamilton out front), will depict a montage of leaders of the women’s suffrage movement: Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

The $5 bill is also slated for a makeover, retaining Abraham Lincoln’s portrait on its obverse side and redesigning the Lincoln Memorial image on its reverse so that Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and African-American contralto Marian Anderson — each of whom had close ties to the memorial — will be featured.

Treasury’s plan is to unveil the redesigned $10 bill, with its anti-counterfeiting features, in 2020, the centennial year of American women being granted the right to vote.

From his grave in Trinity Church’s cemetery in lower Manhattan, Hamilton may very well be celebrating by practicing and then undertaking some of Miranda’s hip-hop dance steps.