We’re glad that Gov. Larry Hogan has joined the effort to get the Trump administration to reverse its outrageous decision to delay replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Maryland-born abolitionist and all-around historical inspiration Harriet Tubman. He’s right that Tubman’s “unbelievable acts of heroism, courage, and sacrifice have more than earned her rightful place among our nation’s most pivotal leaders,” and one would hope that his addition of a Republican voice to the advocacy from Rep. Elijah Cummings and others might make Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin come to his senses.
But we’re not exactly holding our breath here. During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump decried the idea of Tubman on the $20 as “pure political correctness.” In May, when Mr. Mnuchin announced the delay until 2026 — after Mr. Trump would be out of office even with a second term — The New York Times reported that the move was designed to make sure the president didn’t just cancel the Tubman bill altogether out of pique.
Even if President Trump digs in his heels on keeping Tubman off the $20, Congress can force the issue. Since 2015, Mr. Cummings and Rep. John Katko, a Republican from New York, where Tumban settled after fleeing slavery in Maryland, have been pushing legislation to require the Treasury to honor the abolitionist on the $20. The bill has yet to get a committee hearing, either under the old, Republican controlled House or the new Democratic one.
Governor Hogan certainly can and should lend his support to that effort, and as persuasive as a simple recitation of Tubman’s accomplishments is — famed Underground Railroad conductor who risked her life repeatedly to liberate scores of slaves from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Union nurse and spy in the Civil War, prominent women's suffragist — Mr. Hogan could lead Maryland in a demonstration of just how important we believe it is to honor her legacy.
Back in 2016 when Mr. Trump was asked about the Tubman $20, he praised her and didn’t object to the idea that she should appear on currency. (He suggested perhaps a Tubman $2 bill ... because who doesn’t have a wallet full of $2s?) What he objected to was the removal of Andrew Jackson from the face of the $20 (he would still appear on the back in the redesign approved by the Obama administration). Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised Jackson; he also put a portrait of him in the Oval Office and visited his tomb shortly after his inauguration. He appears to see the seventh president as a kindred spirit (without letting details like slaveholding and the Trail of Tears get in the way of his admiration).
As it happens, Maryland isn’t setting such a great example when it comes to being willing to honor Tubman if it means removing an honor for someone else. Eight years ago, the General Assembly debated the idea of replacing one of the two Marylanders honored in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall with Tubman, but defenders of John Hanson scuttled the idea.
“John who,” you say? John Hanson was a Charles County planter and Revolutionary War-era leader who held a variety of political posts, culminating in a one-year term as president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. He is, thus, sometimes referred to as America’s first president, but that rather outrageously overstates the importance of the position in the scheme of our flawed pre-Constitution government and of that government in American history, other than as an object lesson in how not to run a country. He’s not nearly so prominent as Maryland’s other representative in Statuary Hall, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and hence an important symbol of Maryland’s legacy of promoting religious tolerance. All else aside, Hanson has had a century-long run in the Capitol and represents the same era as Carroll. In addition to reflecting the contributions of women and minorities to Maryland (and American) history, a Tubman statue would symbolize a different era in Maryland history.
But Hanson had some prominent defenders, notably then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Rather than replace Hanson, they brokered a compromise in which Maryland would establish a committee to design and raise funds for a Tubman statue to be offered to the Capitol in addition to Maryland’s present two.
The only trouble is, Congress isn’t keen on that idea. Replacing a statue is relatively easy, but adding a third isn’t. Sen. Chris Van Hollen has been introducing legislation to allow it for years, but it has gone nowhere, and consequently, the effort to commission the statue has been in a holding pattern.
Here’s what Mr. Hogan should do: Revive the effort to replace Hanson with Tubman. It’s not a fool’s errand; Mr. Middleton is no longer in the Senate, and while a spokesman said Mr. Miller remains supportive of the 2011 compromise, he has since emerged as a major champion of Tubman who has railed against delays in erecting a statue of her in the State House. If Maryland believes honoring Harriet Tubman’s legacy is important enough to displace a tribute to someone else, let’s prove it.
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