Biden Administration Looking to 'Speed Up' Process of Getting Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill

Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson, who was opposed to paper money and whose portrait has long been controversial

Harriet Tubman 20 dollar bill
Harriet Tubman $20 bill mock-up. Photo: Bureau of Engraving and Printing

After years of delays, Harriet Tubman may soon grace the front of the $20 bill.

The Biden administration is looking to "speed up" efforts to officially put Tubman on the note in place of Andrew Jackson, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Monday.

"The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes," Psaki said. "It's important that our notes, our money, reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that."

"So we're exploring ways to speed up that effort, but any specifics would, of course, come from the Department of Treasury," she added.

Biden selected Janet Yellen as his treasury secretary, making her the first woman to ever hold the position. The Senate was expected to confirm Yellen on Monday.

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Talk of replacing Jackson's portrait with that of the 19th century abolitionist leader has existed since the Obama administration, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced Tubman as Jackson's successor.

At the time, he called Tubman's story "the essential story of American democracy," the Washington Post reported, as she was born enslaved and helped lead others to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She was also a Union Army spy during the Civil War, and was an advocate for women's suffrage.

When Donald Trump took office, however, the process slowed, and Steven Mnuchin, his treasury secretary, announced that the bill's redesign would be delayed in order to first redesign the $10 and $50 notes for security purposes, according to the Associated Press.

Mnuchin's plan would have delayed the redesign until 2028.

"I was here when we announced that, and it was very exciting," Psaki, who also served in the Obama administration, said Monday of the Obama-era plan for the $20 bill. "It hasn't moved forward yet, which we would've been surprised to learn at the time."

The fact that Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was ever selected as Grover Cleveland's replacement for the $20 bill remains a mystery to historians.

The Treasury Department notes that the portraits on American currency "are of deceased persons whose places in history the American people know well," and that all current designs were chosen in 1928.

"Unfortunately, however, our records do not suggest why certain presidents and statesmen were chosen for specific denominations," the department's website says.

Jackson's selection has long been controversial, as his Indian Removal Act forced Native American tribes to relocate and give their land to white Southerners, according to the Post.

He also enslaved more than 100 people, on whose hard labor he relied to earn his wealth at his 1,000-acre cotton plantation The Hermitage.

Jackson was even opposed to paper money, and preferred gold and silver, the Post reported.

Daniel Feller, a University of Tennessee history professor, told the outlet that when the portraits were selected, considering Jackson an American hero was "unproblematic," and that he was seen as a "champion of the common man, a symbol of democracy" as recently as the 1960s.

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