Whose face would you rather see on your money - Andrew Jackson's or Ulysses S. Grant's?

Correct answer: Grant's.

But take Benjamin Franklin over Grant.


Franklin is on the hundred-dollar bill, Grant is on the fifty.

And Jackson, the only president (so far) born in South Carolina, is on the twenty.

However, Jackson won't stay there if Jillian Keenan has her way. Last week, the Slate columnist called for Jackson's exile from U.S. currency.

She recalled this high school lunchroom trauma after a grimly enlightening history class: "We pulled out our wallets in the cafeteria. Andrew Jackson was there, staring out from every $20 bill. We had been carrying around portraits of a mass murderer all along, and had no idea."

OK, so Jackson fairly draws primary blame for the cruel "Trail of Tears" exodus of Cherokees, Choctaws and other Native American tribes forced from ancestral homes in the Southeast to the then-"Indian Territory" in what is now Oklahoma.

Keenan: "By confronting and correcting the symbols of our violent and racist histories, we prompt conversations about how that legacy continues to affect marginalized communities today."

Yet on the "racist histories" front, what about Jackson's fellow slaveholders George Washington on the dollar and Thomas Jefferson on the nickel?

Sure, the displacing - and in many cases wiping out - of Indian nations is a shameful part of our nation's past. But Jackson wasn't the only American of his era who had what now looks like a very bad attitude about Indians.

A man of his time

Ponder what happened on Aug. 30, 1813, when Creek warriors attacked Fort Mims, about 35 miles north of Mobile, Ala. From Jon Meacham's illuminating "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for biography:

"It was brutal; as a historian of Alabama described it, 250 whites, including women and children, 'were butchered in the quickest manner, and blood and brains bespattered the whole earth. The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockading. The women were scalped, and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive, and the embryo infants let out of their wombs.' "

Yes, the Creeks were much more ornery than the Cherokees and Choctaws, and U.S. forces committed atrocities of their own against Indians.

Still, as Meacham writes of Jackson: "While he took an extreme view of Indian matters, however, he was on the extreme edge of the mainstream, not wholly outside it."

And the "mainstream" can move quickly.

Then-President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which aimed to ban states from legalizing gay marriage, in 1997.

Barack Obama, less than a week before winning the 2008 presidential election, told MTV (hey, he won the youth vote big): "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage."

Now Clinton, wife Hillary and Obama, like a lot of other Americans (including me), have gone from opposing to backing gay marriage.

Clearly, times - and minds - change.

What lies beneath

Certainly the Rev. Joseph A. Darby is trying to change minds about Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell's College of Charleston presidential bid (see today's front page).

And in a Monday Commentary page column, which didn't mention McConnell, Rev. Darby urged that we "confess old 'sins,' deal with them and walk together to find enduring common ground."

Sounds good. Just don't count on reaching "enduring common ground" if the trip requires branding Hunley crew members as "terrorists," as Rev. Darby did in his column.

Back in time to Jackson (Andrew, not "Stonewall"): He wasn't rough on just Indians. He was tough on his native state, backing South Carolina down from nullification and secession threats in 1833.

And "Old Hickory" displayed not just a hard edge but a witty one when he said in 1837: "After eight years as president, I have only two regrets - that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun."

So let's keep our seventh president on the twenty. Let's also keep in mind, in our ongoing quest to uplift America's downtrodden, the wisdom of this 1997 hit-single title from Puff Daddy, aka Sean Combs, Diddy and P. Diddy:

"It's All About the Benjamins."

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.