Currency lecture reflects upon modern politics

On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Institute for Freedom and Community hosted an event titled “Who’s In Your Wallet?” to discuss the controversy over the faces pictured on the 10 and 20 dollar bills and the question of who, out of the American historical figures Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson and Harriet Tubman, should be featured on our currency. Speakers at the event were Mercyhurst University political science professor Michael Federici, Michael Lind, author of the book “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States” and Cornell University history professor Margaret Washington.

Federici, who wrote the book “The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton,” started the session by acknowledging that he believed Hamilton would have difficulty applying his political ideas to the modern American landscape. He argued that it is not realistic to project Hamilton’s power-centric idealism to the modern day, suggesting that his ideals should be reversed for contemporary use. Federici argued that the motion to remove Hamilton from the 10 dollar bill would be ironic as he was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Hamilton had suggested that U.S. Presidents should have their faces put on currency upon their death.

Federici continued by expressing how glad he is that Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton” helped to keep Hamilton on the 10 dollar bill. In his book, he notes that Hamilton opposed slavery and helped Native Americans, as opposed to President Andrew Jackson who led the massive expulsion of Native Americans known as the Trail of Tears.

However, according to Federici, Hamilton’s positions on foreign policy more closely resemble Donald Trump’s isolationist rhetoric than Hillary Clinton’s interventionist tendencies. Furthermore, both Hamilton and Trump are sometimes labeled as “economic nationalists.” Nevertheless, Frederici was quick to acknowledge the differences between Trump and Hamilton, especially regarding immigration and the federal government.

The second panelist in the event, Lind, acknowledged Andrew Jackson’s controversial legacy: Jackson earned a reputation for racism and ethnocentrism in large part due to his role in the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of the Cherokee nation to present-day Oklahoma. According to Lind, Jackson’s policy toward Native Americans can be compared to Trump’s proposal to build a wall physically separating the U.S. from Mexico.

Regardless of any similarity between Trump and Jackson, Lind concluded by commenting that Trump’s policy proposals have little feasibility in a nation as diverse as the modern United States.

The final panelist, Washington, began by acknowledging the politics surrounding the decision to put a woman, Harriet Tubman, on the 20 dollar bill. Tubman was an abolitionist who guided dozens of slaves to freedom, and was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the Civil War. Washington also posited that the timing of Tubman’s appearance on U.S. currency alongside Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president was not accidental.

The panel was hosted by St. Olaf’s Institute for Freedom and Community, which aims to challenge presuppositions and foster constructive dialogue among those with differing values and contending points of view.