Legally, putting a woman on a $20 bill is relatively easy, but democratizing the process might end up with a better result.
Women on 20s is a national campaign that wants to recommend a woman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Started by Barbara Ortiz Howard, the owner of an exterior restoration company, and Susan Ades Stone, a journalist, their campaign has gone viral. Even President Obama suggested that he might consider it.
Ortiz Howard and Andes Stone are doing the public a great service by creating public interest, albeit limited to a few hundred thousand people.
Currency, both coins and bills, function as a vehicle for conveying national values as much as a practical store of value. They help us remember the people, places and events that are important to our collective conscience. Remember how 148 million Americans collected the 50 State Quarter program? That was the most popular coin program in history and it taught a whole generation about state history and geography.
The art on coins and bills are also an extension of our national identity. As the rest of the world receives them, they are able to discern who Americans are and what does their nation believe.
The process is relatively straightforward. The secretary of the Treasury can choose anyone as long as the people on the portraits are deceased. The Constitution gives Congress the authority over currency. But in 1862, Congress delegated the responsibility for selecting designs, including portraits, to the secretary of the Treasury. The designs on our bills were last changed in 1929.
But while unilaterally changing the portrait would be legal and expedient, it would miss an opportunity to bring our nation’s citizens together during a politically polarizing era. One idea to accomplish this would be for the secretary of the Treasury to use a national competition to make the selection of an individual and to approve a portrait, much like how the designs of the successful 50 State Quarters program were determined.
Governors could solicit local candidates from their citizens and bipartisan state/territory or District of Columbia panels could evaluate candidates and narrow them down to five. Each jurisdiction’s citizens would then vote to narrow it down to one candidate. The 57 candidate biographies would be highlighted by national media over a reasonable period of time. Then the candidates would be put to a nationwide vote with the result announced in March, which is National Women’s History Month.
This would generate an immense amount of public interest, educate the general populace on important American women and promote a greater sense of e pluribus unum.
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