NEW YORK — Immigrant. Founding Father. The architect of the U.S. financial system, who envisioned the way a struggling young democracy could survive. The star of a hit Broadway musical. Why is Alexander Hamilton now being removed from America’s $10 bill?
The announcement in June that a woman would appear on U.S. paper money for the first time in more than a century was welcomed. But booting Hamilton drew widespread criticism, including from former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke. Some, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, have asked why slave owner and central bank-hater President Andrew Jackson couldn’t be kicked off the $20 bill instead. The issue even came up during the recent Republican presidential debate. U.S. officials say the $10 bill is the most counterfeited one, thus the redesign. Officials plan to make a decision on a new portrait in the coming months.
The hip-hop musical “Hamilton” has been a huge hit on Broadway, with its African-American and Latino cast playing the roles of the Founding Fathers. The musical’s young creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, says he was inspired by a biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The book portrays Hamilton as perhaps the most intriguing of the cast of characters who brought the United States into existence. An orphan from the Caribbean, he came to New York as a teen, studied and soon became a key military aide to George Washington in the American Revolution. Later with James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton argued passionately in a famous series of essays known as the Federalist Papers that the young United States would need a strong central government and banking system and a constitution to bind the new nation together.
Hamilton became the young country’s first treasury secretary, and the story of the modern U.S. economy begins with him. He essentially crafted the U.S. monetary system — a feat that perhaps has not received enough credit. Before the Constitution passed, many feared the U.S. was too feeble to last, with a weak national government and individual states burdened by war debts. Hamilton’s solution: a stronger economic union, which would lead to a stronger political union. A federal tax system, a national debt, a central bank, a mint with the dollar as currency: Hamilton was behind them all.
“I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry,” Miranda’s character sings in “Hamilton.” But Hamilton’s ambitions could burn him. He undermined his political prospects by acknowledging an affair. And his lifelong rivalry with Aaron Burr ended in a duel that killed Hamilton when he was not yet 50 years old.