Given the broad and well-sustained consensus that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of America's three greatest presidents of all time, ranked neck-and-neck with Washington and Lincoln, it is time to evaluate putting him on our currency.  From the current Democratic position of legislative strength and moral authority, now (i.e., the next few years) would seem an opportune time to consider this.

Regard the list of people with their faces on circulated American currency, in order of increasing denomination: George Washington ($1), Thomas Jefferson ($2), Abraham Lincoln ($5), Alexander Hamilton ($10), Andrew Jackson ($20), Ulysses S. Grant ($50), and Benjamin Franklin ($100).  Of these names, three (Hamilton, Grant, and Jackson) are plainly of less absolute significance to the United States than Franklin Roosevelt, whatever their merits were in context.

Alexander Hamilton, while considered a "Founding Father," played a relatively limited role in forging the Constitution (though he was influential in arguing for it - see The Federalist Papers), opposed the Bill of Rights, and mainly contributed to America's progress as Treasury Secretary.  He was also a proponent of war with France under the John Adams administration, making arguments that today sound eerily similar to the delusional thinking of neoconservatism.  His greatest work was in the realm of financial institutions, which, while important, hardly constituted a broad or fundamental contribution to the character of American civilization.  Replacing Hamilton with FDR on the $10 bill would have a nice symmetry, since FDR is also on the dime, making him part of the group including Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson who have both coins and currency.

Andrew Jackson, while a president of great substance and significance, was a singular peculiarity on many subjects he addressed - e.g., abolishing the electoral college, term-limiting presidents to 1 term, and determined opposition to federal involvement in banking - and has had little influence on the later progress of those issues.  He was highly influential, however, when it came to expanding the rights of citizenship to "the common man" and introducing elections into the judiciary, as well as his frontier sentiments about Manifest Destiny.  But none of this even comes close to the achievements, on every level, of FDR.  Replacing Jackson on the $20 bill would have the benefit of volume, since the $20 is the denomination dispensed by ATMs.

Ulysses S. Grant, while the architect of America's Civil War victory, was not a great president.  He was not a terrible president, but on matters great and small his responses to the problems of the age ranged from insufficient to lackadaisical.  He was unable to reform the South or finish Reconstruction in a durable way; unable to purge his government of rampant corruption; and the progress he did make on some issues was mostly either ephemeral or incremental.  His presence on the $50 bill stemmed largely from the absence of other suitable candidates at the time.  I would much rather have FDR on the $10 or the $20, but would be willing to accept the $50 if letting Hamilton and Jackson keep their places would be necessary to secure FDR a place on US currency.

Yes, there are legitimate objections: Imprisoning an entire race of people on nebulous, paranoid suspicions in direct violation of both the letter and spirit of the Constitution is a major blemish, but we should not forget what the others on our money have done: Hamilton at times took positions sounding like fascism, and sought to establish war as a money-making endeavor; Jackson engaged in the ethnic cleansing and, at times, genocide of indigenous populations in direct violation of Supreme Court decisions, not to mention basic human decency; Washington supported the Alien & Sedition Acts that created a climate of political intimidation for years, and plainly violated the Bill of Rights; Lincoln suspended habeas corpus without securing Congressional approval, which the Constitution required; and US Grant supported and implemented Sherman's "total war" doctrine against the South, allowing entire towns to be burnt to the ground and crop fields destroyed.  We should also keep in mind that Roosevelt may not have had much choice given the climate of the times, unlike most of these other cases.

On balance, I see no excuse for not having FDR on a major currency denomination - he was one of the three greatest US Presidents of all time, if not the greatest; one of the greatest Americans of all time; he rescued America from poverty and despair, kept it safe from the siren songs of both fascism and Communism, and freed the world from two fascist empires, one of which was the vilest and most heinous the world has ever known.  He set the economic foundations that created the American Dream, the military foundations that would secure it from Soviet aggression in later years, and with few exceptions conducted the most desperate struggle for the survival of freedom with a moral authority and humanity that has served as a beacon to mankind ever since.  

Let wingnut heads explode, and let America finally give Franklin Delano Roosevelt his due.  


Note on poll: Whatever denomination you think FDR should be featured on, the current occupant could be moved to another, so you wouldn't necessarily be denying that person recognition).

Originally posted to Troubadour on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 06:58 PM PST.


Should FDR be on currency, and what denomination?

1%4 votes
16%36 votes
31%70 votes
18%41 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
4%9 votes
17%39 votes
5%13 votes
2%5 votes
0%0 votes
1%4 votes

| 221 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.