The $10 bill is no place for a woman.
At least, not yet.
Unfortunately, a female gracing the ten seems inevitable in light of our political class’s obsession with identity politics and victimization.
When Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced this summer that he was replacing Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a yet-unnamed woman, he called it a triumph for our “inclusive democracy.”
Because nothing screams democracy like an unelected bureaucrat making unilateral decisions.
Being on the face of a bill is a high honor, reserved for only the greatest political figures in our nation’s history. American currency isn’t just a sign of our economic prowess, it’s also one of our largest public memorials. Our elected representatives ought to deliberate on who best represents the country before bestowing this honor.
Since the standardization of our currency in 1928, however, this task has fallen to bureaucrats. This is the embodiment of progressive administrative rule.
But the lack of deference to republican government is not the worst sin Lew committed in replacing Alexander Hamilton on the ten. That honor is reserved for his commitment to placing a woman in his stead.
Being placed on a dollar bill ought to be a result of merit. But for now, that’s a problem if you want a woman there. Make no mistake, there are many successful women in our history. But we don’t just put successful people on our money, we put only the greatest of the great — those figures who created or saved the Union, or guided it through times of intense troubles. And when it comes to women, America simply doesn’t have an equivalent to a Queen Elizabeth or even a Margaret Thatcher.
Take Harriet Tubman, a likely choice for the honor of being on the ten based on online polling. She saved many blacks from slavery and served as a useful Union spy. She even lead a military expedition at Combahee Ferry during the Civil War, the first female to lead troops in the war. Those are notable accomplishments, but they are simply no match for those of Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton was a war hero and a political genius. During the Revolution he raised and trained his own artillery company and demonstrated his courage and tactical acumen at the battle of Harlem Heights. Washington promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel and retained him as a senior aide.
Hamilton co-authored the Constitution and served as one of its premier defenders in the Federalist Papers. He opposed slavery and oversaw the creation of a political union strong and principled enough to one day defeat it.
During his tenure as Treasury Secretary he did nothing less than save the republic by fixing its credit problem and putting its shoddy finances in order. He spent 30 years in public service in the continental convention, presidential cabinet, and Congress.
It’s not just Harriet Tubman: no American woman and few men from Hamilton’s generation or any other comes close to reaching that level of political greatness.
Therefore, the only reason to award a woman a place on the ten has nothing to do with achievement and everything to do with politics.
This obsession with identity creates faction and destroys the public sense of a common good. Liberal principle pits differing groups against one another with narratives of victimization and oppression.
Women, we are told, need to be on our currency because “their” accomplishments haven’t been recognized enough. This is absurd. Individual women are not representative of all women everywhere.
Identity should not be more important than accomplishment. That’s the problem with placing a woman on the ten. The decision to do so emphasizes what someone is over what they’ve done. It undermines the classic American dedication to merit and ability in favor of tribalism.
We can do better than that. We can hold off on putting a woman on the ten until one of them earns the honor.