Why Harriet Beecher Stowe Should be on the $10 Bill
Andrew Jackson killed a least a dozen men in personal duels, owned hundreds of slaves, and committed genocidal acts on the Cherokee and Seminole peoples. For these reasons, groups have lobbied to remove him from the $20 bill and replace him, preferably with a woman, as no women current appear on paper money. The treasury department heard these requests loud and clear, and after much deliberation, decided to reserve some space on the ten spot for a woman’s face. Any woman. On the ten. Replacing Alexander Hamilton, who committed no atrocities.
Let’s not try to pierce the veil of government bureaucracy to divine why they made this decision. Instead, we should take advantage of this opportunity to pick a suitable female for this top “billing”. Susan B. Anthony has already adorned coinage for decades, and Sacagawea, famous for assisting two white men go camping, is no longer in the running. The limitation provided by federal law is that no living person can be put on currency, (presumably to keep future President Trump from putting his comical visage on a coin,) so that keeps Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor from the top spot. This leaves Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt vying for the top spot in much of the polling.
While both of these are champions of human rights, there is an artist who still looms larger in American history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is the single most important novelist in American history, the proximate cause of the civil war, and therefore, a key figure in the abolition of slavery in the United States.
In 1851, Stowe published the first section of Uncle Toms Cabin, a melodramatic novel wherein an impoverished farmer sells his slaves to pay his debts, made known the cruelty of slavery to the general public. Largely seen as a necessary evil or even boon, Uncle Tom’s cabin changed views on the institution all over the world and in all social classes. Queen Victoria wept reading it, and the many plays and minstrel shows based on it caused arguments wherever they traveled, including the South.
While figures like Lincoln and John Brown often take the spotlight, Stowe alone made both and deliberate contribution to human freedom. John Brown’s armed insurrection certainly hasted the oncoming war, but his chief effect was to inspire the creation of armed militias across the south the would later form the backbone of the Confederate army, hardly a positive contribution. Lincoln, for his part, was deeply uninterested in war, and was content to allow slavery to linger for the sake of national unity. What Stowe did was make abolitionism, formerly a fringe movement pursued by Quakers and other religions sects, into a mainstream viewpoint. After the unprecedented success of Uncle Tom’s cabin, people of any social class could declare their opposition to the institution of slavery openly and count themselves in good company.
Stowe is among the most successful writers in world history and the proximate cause of the end of American slavery. For these reasons, the ten dollar bill should reserve a spot for who Lincoln called “the little woman who started this Great war.”