Although America has been a party to many great global struggles, in which she sought to help make the world a freer place, the greatest struggle she has fought over the years has been with herself. At the price of countless blood shed, along with sweat, tears and heartache, America finally came to terms with the evil of slavery that she had harbored since the days of her inception. In so doing, America honored at home the spirit of freedom and liberty for which she has always fought and strove abroad.
There are so many figures who were central to our great Civil War, both in the military sense (like Grant) and the political sense (like Lincoln). But the Civil War was, at bottom, a spiritual fight. It was won on the battlefields of Shiloh and Gettysburg, but these battles would never have been fought if not for the inspirational figures like Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman. Tubman’s character, honor, bravery and ferocity symbolized the plight of the American slave, and her example helped paved the way for the end of the institution.
Even as a resident of Nashville, home of Andrew Jackson, I do not feel angered by his removal from United States currency. I feel Jackson has perhaps been judged unduly harshly by history, as he is often judged by the standards of decency that are prevalent today, rather than by comparison to the standards of decency that prevailed in his day. If Abraham Lincoln were treated this way by history, he would be known today as a virulent racist. But Jackson, unlike some of his other contemporaries, has never been able to shed the stain of the Trail of Tears from his legacy, even though he by all accounts is largely responsible for the shape of the modern Presidency. Certainly, he is less instrumental to the foundation of this nation than was the great Alexander Hamilton. And according to early speculation, he will not be removed altogether from the bill in any case, but merely demoted to the back.
Acknowledging Harriet Tubman’s place in history does more than honor Tubman herself, it honors the great spiritual struggle for freedom and equality that this country fought with itself in the middle of the 19th century, which is right and proper to do.
My only hope is that someday, one hundred and fifty or two hundred years hence, we will have occasion to honor on our currency a brave (and as yet unknown) warrior who will have helped to erase the stain of legalized infanticide from this nation’s history, in the same way Harriet Tubman helped erase the stain of slavery.
Until that day.
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