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Why Reagan won’t get on $20 bills

I’m not sure what you’ve gotta do to get your picture on our money. It helps to be a dead president; 9 of the people on the 12 denominations of U.S. paper currency are dead presidents. Two others are dead treasury secretaries. The odd man out is Benjamin Franklin, whose biggest claim to fame involves flying a kite. Perhaps that’s where the “go fly a kite” expression came from. Anyway, all of the people on U.S. paper currency are dead, so I don’t see why anyone would aspire to have their portrait on our currency.

The selections of Washington ($1), Jefferson ($2), and Lincoln ($5) are obvious. These guys created our country (with a little help from others, including the kite guy). Congress may have put Hamilton on the $10 bill as a consolation award for losing the duel with Burr. Note that Burr didn’t get a denomination, although presumably he would be a candidate for$3 or $13 bills, if the Treasury ever issues those denominations. Maybe he was punished for blowing away the principal backer of the First Bank of the United States, a forerunner of the Federal Reserve system. I can see how that would get Burr some Republican votes in the Congress we have now, in case a spot on a new denomination opens up.

Burr would have to get in line behind Reagan, though. The GOP wants so badly to get Reagan on our money they might even create a new denomination just for him. It probably wouldn’t be $3 or $13, though. Even though Republicans aren’t known for their sensitivity to nuances, I can’t imagine they would miss the symbolism of those denominations. They’re salivating over the idea of kicking Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and putting Reagan there instead. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because of obstructionist Democrats in Congress.

The $20 bill has been a moveable feast. At various times it has featured Lady Liberty, Pocahontas, Hamilton, Stephen Decatur, Garfield, Daniel Manning, Hugh McCulloch, and Washington. Jackson has been on it since 1928. I have no idea what happened in 1928 to impel Congress to put him on the $20 bill. Maybe they thought he won World War I or something. It’s interesting that the guy who did win World War I, General John J. Pershing (from our point of view, the British and French had little or nothing to do with the outcome), only got an 8-cent stamp, and even that didn’t come until 1961.

It’s hard to look at things like that and not conclude that the portrait spaces on our currency and stamps are doled out somewhat arbitrarily. Maybe they just draw names out of a hat, although in that case, you wonder why we haven’t had a $7 3/8 bill yet.

Jackson was a moveable feast, too, or at least he’s moved around a lot. At various times he’s been on the $5, $10, $50, and $10,000 bills, plus more postage stamps than almost anyone else, not to mention a Confederate $1,000 bill (which, by 1865, was equivalent to the U.S. $1 bill owing to wartime inflation in the Old South). Jackson gets around. You might say he’s a rolling stone.

That being the case, it shouldn’t be all that hard to give Jackson another denomination to make room for Reagan on the $20 bill, except for those obstructionist Democrats who aren’t sold that Reagan was a statesman of the magnitude of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Garfield, or Decatur, Manning, or McCulloch (whoever they were). The Treasury could easily create a $35 denomination for him, which is halfway between $20 and $50, and is equivalent to $5 in 1980 before Reaganomics kicked in.

But I don’t think that would get Reagan any closer to gracing our $20 bills. The obstructionist Democrats would demand a rationale, and if you say because Reagan knocked over the USSR, they’ll argue Gorbachev and John Paul II had more to do with it. In any case, they’re saving up that spot for somebody else. Meanwhile, Jackson continues to occupy the $20 bill by default, and because it takes the agreement of Congress to change it, he’ll probably stay there forever. Congress can’t even pass a budget, let alone change whosehillary-clinton.nocrop.w529.h282.2x picture is on the $20 bill.

 


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