In a video recorded on the front steps of the Treasury building on June 17, US treasury secretary Jack Lew announced that the $10 dollar bill will be redesigned with a new face. In the video, a statue of Alexander Hamilton—the first-ever US Secretary of the Treasury and the person currently on the $10 bill—is visible over his shoulder. But Hamilton goes unmentioned. For the stewards of Hamilton’s legacy, however, it’s time to speak up.
As the Chairman and CEO of the Bank of New York Mellon, I’m constantly reminded of Hamilton’s foundational impact on our country. Back in 1784, he created the company I now run. His descendants remain clients of ours. A conference room near my office even overlooks his gravesite.
In my company’s day-to-day operations, and across the land, Hamilton’s fingerprints are everywhere. He is the architect of our country’s financial system. He was the principal writer of the Federalist papers, which ensured ratification of the Constitution. He created the US Coast Guard. He was George Washington’s most trusted aid during the Revolutionary War. He established the national mint and our official currency—he is the last person who should be stripped off of it.
I’m lucky enough to get all these daily reminders of Hamilton’s impact. But unlike many of the other titans of American history, Hamilton has no major monument for the public to remember him by. The $10 dollar bill is the only—and most fitting—memorial for everything he did to set the United States on a prosperous course.
Let me be clear: Adding a woman to our currency is long, long overdue. It’s a fantastic initiative that I’m very excited about. The theme for the redesign of the $10 bill is our nation’s democratic legacy. In the spirit of that theme, the Treasury Department has asked for nominees through a Twitter hashtag. It’s hard to choose between so many deserving candidates, such as Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and humanitarian who risked her life over and over again to bring freedom to others. It doesn’t get more American than that.
I’m not asking to roll back this historic change. I’m simply asking that, in the same spirit of democracy, the American people also get to weigh in on one more thing: who to remove.
The explanation for axing Hamilton is, above all, that the $10 is next in line for a makeover. But if we make this choice on merit rather than convenience, there is a much more sensible candidate for expulsion. Andrew Jackson was a slave-owner; Hamilton was a life-long abolitionist. Hamilton erected the first national bank; Jackson extinguished it with a veto. Jackson killed a man in a duel; Hamilton was killed in one. Not to mention, there are over four times more $20 dollar bills in circulation than $10s. It would be an even more powerful place for a woman to finally appear.
In praising the changes to the $10 dollar bill, Jack Lew exclaimed, “America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for.” I couldn’t agree more.
But what statement are we making here? Given all Hamilton has done for this country and its modern-day fortunes, his removal is too big to not ask the country to weigh in on that important decision as well. Let’s simply extend the Twitter hashtag process to poll our fellow citizens.
It would be a far more fitting way to enact this important change. And I trust that it would solidify Hamilton’s place on the $10.