Leave Jackson on one side of the $20 bill and put his nemesis, Cherokee leader John Ross, on the other

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tags: Jackson, Cherokee, John Ross



Steve Inskeep is co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and the author of the forthcoming book “Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.”

 In 1928 the Treasury Department issued the first $20 bill featuring Andrew Jackson, replacing Grover Cleveland. After almost a century, Jackson needs to step aside — and this time, the bill should feature John Ross, a Cherokee leader and Old Hickory’s opponent in a fight to control Indian land.

Jackson infamously won that fight, but used methods that stained his country’s honor. Ross lost, but only after resisting for over 20 years. Placing Ross on the $20 bill would bring a measure of symbolic justice to a seminal episode of American history.

This is hardly the first proposal to change the $20 bill. Calls to replace Jackson, a slave owner, with an American Indian or an African-American are common; this year a brilliant campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill has gained traction. We should be adding diverse figures to our money. But we should do this without losing sight of the incredible era the $20 bill now represents: America’s formative years between the Revolution and the Civil War.

It was an era of nation building, and Jackson was a nation builder. Before running for president, he was a soldier, whose exploits changed the map of the United States. Alabama could not become a state until after he crushed the Creek Nation, which owned most of it. Florida belonged to Spain until after he invaded it.

The trouble lies in how Jackson made the country we inherited. His troops massacred Indians. He coerced Native Americans into surrendering land through unjust treaties. In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, supporting a policy to push all natives west of the Mississippi. One result was the Trail of Tears in 1838, when 13,000 Cherokees left their homeland in the Appalachians. Another was a war against Florida’s Seminoles, lasting nearly as long as the war in Iraq. ...




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