A Brief History of the $20 Bill: From Andrew Jackson to Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson: A Brief Explainer
MPI/Getty; Hulton Archive/Getty

04/20/2016 AT 03:45 PM EDT

Harriet Tubman is taking President Andrew Jackson's place on the $20 bill.

Aside from the fact that this presumably marks the first time the federal government is taking hints from Broadway – Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced last June that a woman would replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 and is apparently now reneging on that claim thanks to Hamilton's new place in the spotlight due to Lin-Manuel Miranda Pulitzer-prize winning musical about him – this also makes Tubman the first woman on a paper bill in over a century. (Lady Victory and Pocahontas both graced pre-Federal Reserve versions of $20 U.S. currency, as did … Alexander Hamilton!)

Here's a quick study guide to the respective contributions of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson to American history.

Harriet Tubman

Tubman was born a slave around 1822 in Maryland and escaped to freedom in Philadelphia in 1849. She's popularly known in U.S. history for the nearly two dozen runs she made along the so-called "Underground Railroad" (neither underground, nor a railroad, but a series of safe houses and individuals sympathetic to slaves), helping slaves escape to freedom in the northern U.S. or Canada. Estimates vary about the number of slaves Tubman helped free: History.com puts the number at approximately 300.



Tubman also helped John Brown plan his failed raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and continued to work as part of the Union's efforts through the Civil War, first as a nurse and then as a scout and spy – into enemy territory – for Col. James Montgomery. (Tubman was, according to biographer Kate Clifford Larson, the first woman to lead an armed assault in the Civil War – the Combahee River Raid, which freed over 750 slaves.) She was paid two hundred dollars over the course of three years for her efforts for the Union, and did not receive a pension until 1899.

Tubman retired to upstate New York in 1859 to care for her parents, though she remained active in the women's suffrage movement.

Andrew Jackson

The seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson remains one of the most divisive figures in American politics. Born in 1767, Jackson grew up poor, eventually becoming a prominent Tennessee lawyer. He earned national fame as a military hero during the War of 1812, notably winning the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. Buoyed by this, he was elected to the presidency in 1829, leading the newly established Democratic Party.

Historians rank Jackson highly as an effective president for a number of reasons. Among them, he spent more money on internal improvements to the U.S. than every other American President combined, improved relations between the U.S. and Great Britain, held the Union together when South Carolina attempted to declare four years of federal tariffs invalid and vetoed the Second Bank of the United States.

Jackson is also remembered as, to put it mildly, something of a wildcard. Among his more colorful anecdotes: He opened his inauguration to the public, making it less of a government proceeding and more of a party; he was a big duelist, frequently moved to violence over questions of his wife's honor; he and his friends once destroyed every table and glass in a tavern before setting the establishment on fire; and he had a pet parrot that was such an authoritative mimic of Jackson's profanity that it had to be ejected from his funeral for swearing.

All that said, Jackson was also the architect of one of the most reprehensible actions ever undertaken by the U.S.: The 1830 Indian Removal Act. Jackson was always a fan of the idea of "Indian removal" and fought brutal battles against the Native Americans as an Army general, presiding over all kinds of war-related atrocities against Natives (whom, to be fair, also committed their own war-related atrocities). The Act resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans from a number of different tribes along the so-called "Trail of Tears." (There were actually multiple "Trails," dependent on the origins of each tribe.) By 1837, the government had removed 46,000 Native Americans from their lands, with thousands dying along the way. At least 3,500 Creeks and 5,000 Cherokee died over the course of the journey.
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