Rob Christensen

Students weigh in on Hamilton's role on $10 bill

Even in the age of smart phones, video games and other distractions, there are young people willing to think about such issues as whether Alexander Hamilton should remain on the $10 bill.

Take, for example, the students in Ms. Stephanie Suski’s AP U.S History Class at St Mary’s prep school for women in Raleigh.

Last week, I wrote a column questioning Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s decision to remove Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, Revolutionary War hero and one of the founding fathers, from the $10 bill, and replacing him with a yet-to be named woman by 2020. I wrote it would be more appropriate to replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill or former President U.S. Grant on the $50 bill.

That prompted Ms. Suski to question her students via email, even though they are on summer break, about what they thought about the merits of replacing Hamilton with a woman. Ms. Suski encourages her students to analyze American history from different angles.

She thinks the responses show that American history is alive and well in North Carolina schools despite some concerns about its redesign a year ago. She shared some of the responses with permission from the students. See for yourself.

From Emily Weatherspoon: “Jackson hated paper money so it's super ironic that he even got a place on a paper bill in the first place. Also, he wasn't exactly the best president we've ever had in my opinion (like Trail of Tears???). Alexander Hamilton is one of the most influential non-presidents in U.S. history with the exception of Henry Clay. And as Secretary of the Treasury, his influence was felt primarily in the economic system, making him a perfect person to have on money. But overall, I'm super excited that they're moving forward to put a woman on currency, even if it's not the best bill in my opinion.”

From Tori Hester: “I think they should keep Alexander Hamilton and replace Jackson. I’ve always liked Hamilton. He contributed a lot to our nation’s economy. I never liked Jackson. He made me mad with the Trail of Tears and other things. I think it’s a really big step in the right direction for our country to put a woman on our currency! I can’t wait!’’

From Dana Hansford: “I've been reading about this a lot, and from what I've read, the decision to replace Hamilton was based more on timing than anything else, and that the ten dollar bill was supposed to be updated soon anyway. However, I think that during this time of a huge amount of racial tension, the decision isn't thoughtful. Jackson was a man who supported government corruption (the spoils system), and was not only racist towards African Americans but also killed Native Americans in the trail of tears. He is the definition of corruption and white superiority, in my opinion. Not to mention he was against paper money in the first place. Hamilton, by contrast, was an abolitionist and created the basis of our economic system. I'm so excited with the decision to have a woman on our currency, but I think a little bit of political awareness would have helped in the situation, as replacing Jackson would have doubled the positive message.’’

From Molly Paul: “Personally, I would love to see a woman on American currency. Not only is the $20 bill worth more and used more than the $10 bill, but I also believe Hamilton was a great leader economically when our new country needed it most. He faced a lot of opposition and compromised for the sake of what was seen as best for the country. Hamilton established our economic system, paid back war bonds, and paid back debt. Also, Jackson didn’t even believe in or support paper money, why should he be on it? I would find it both awesome and ironic to see Jackson replaced by Wilma Mankiller.

Mankiller was first female chief of the Cherokee nation. To be honest, I had to look that up.

There are several points I would take away from this. It is impressive that a teacher keeps her students engaged during summer break, and that her students would care enough to offer thoughtful responses.

I also liked the intelligent, balanced approach to history shown by the students. They are both aware of our nation’s faults and sensitive to questions of diversity, but also respectful toward our founding fathers and seemingly aware of the blessings of our economic system. This is as it should be.

Christensen: 919-829-4532;

Twitter: @oldpolhack