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Reagan Replace Hamilton on the Ten-Spot? Not!

by Mark Drolette Friday, Jul. 02, 2004 at 3:22 PM

A move is afoot to supplant Alexander Hamilton’s image on the very currency he helped strengthen with that of a recently-departed president whose main political achievement was establishing style over substance. Should we put Ronald Reagan’s mouth (and the rest of his face, and for that matter, his hair) where our money is? For the answer, read on.

Quick: Who’s on the ten-dollar bill? If you said Ronald Reagan, you’re wrong, but perhaps not for long.

The answer, of course, is Alexander Hamilton. Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t say “of course” since it's always risky to make assumptions about Americans' awareness: A recent poll showed 74% of them incorrectly responded "yes" when asked if President Bush has ever strung together two consecutive grammatically-correct sentences. (I was heartened by another survey, however, that showed more than half of my fellow citizens answered "Hamilton," rather than "Bush," when asked which one died in a duel.)

Still, there is no denying Hamilton lives in relative anonymity among today’s Americans (although, he doesn’t actually “live,” because, as just noted, he’s dead). This could all soon change in the wake of Reagan’s wake, as the 40th president’s recent passing has prompted a call from a group called Americans for Tax Reform to replace Hamilton’s handsome visage on the sawbuck with that of the Gipper’s. ATR is headed by a Bush administration confidant, the exceedingly loathsome Grover Norquist ( (Reportedly, when the White House was accepting resumes for confidants, Norquist simply wrote “I am exceedingly loathsome” across his and was promptly given the position.) The proposal seems especially crass since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Hamilton’s death, caused by pistol shot in Weehawken, New Jersey, during a duel to which he had been challenged by then vice president Aaron Burr. (With duels obviously long since outlawed, I tried to picture an equivalent modern-day scenario, but the one I imagined—a sitting vice president telling a senator to “Go f*** yourself” on the Senate floor—was so laughably unbelievable, I just gave up.) The plan also has some congressional backing as Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stated he intends to submit a bill to make it happen “at the appropriate time.” And so, if the issue is pressed, a pitched battle between Reaganites and Hamiltonians is sure to follow (obvious duel joke bypassed here). Whatever the result, though, it does appear some well-deserved light will finally be shone on Hamilton’s truly remarkable achievements.

Simply put, Hamilton was, in this age of cheap “patriotism,” a genuine American hero. He merely: fought in the Revolutionary War for six years, four of which were spent as a colonel for George Washington; was a New York state assemblyman; served in Congress; was America’s first treasury secretary; wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers; founded the Bank of New York and the Bank of the United States; and was the man most responsible for quickly transforming a monetarily weak fledgling America into a major international financial player. In his spare moments, Hamilton found time to help turn Paterson, New Jersey, into one of the country’s first major manufacturing centers ( He also sold Amway but, by all accounts, was less annoying than most dealers.

And Reagan? Well, he was an actor--or at least, he played one in the movies. Then Californians elected him governor—twice. (Some context, though, may help explain this strange phenomenon: This was California in the 60s. Enough said.) Later, during the bizarre mass hysteria that gripped the country around election time in 1980, Americans elected Reagan president. Four years later, during a second outbreak of the same strange, disorienting national madness (not widely reported in the press; “liberal media,” my lefty foot), Reagan was elected again, thereby ensuring steady employment for countless future historians as they spend entire careers trying to explain how such a thing could have actually happened. Oh, yes, and one more thing…Even though Reagan wasn’t even president when the Soviet Union collapsed, his worshipful acolytes have long since goofily insisted on assigning him credit for single-handedly causing its inevitable fall. (If only the Russkies had held on for just a few short years more before they imploded, we could have been saved from this ongoing mythic hell; thanks a lot, commies.)

But maybe there’s more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps there are other as yet unexamined factors that make Reagan worthy of shoving one of the country’s all-time greatest citizens off of its currency, the very currency Hamilton helped make strong. So I did a little more comparing and contrasting. Some of this stuff is already well-known, some of it, not so much.

· Reagan had a good constitution. Hamilton signed a great Constitution.

· Hamilton never served as president. Neither did Reagan. Though he was elected twice, actual duties were left to Nancy.

· Both Hamilton and Reagan were experienced horseman, though the former had decidedly more trouble with burrs.

· Reagan was known as the “Great Communicator.” Even though Hamilton traveled far distances, he was never known as the “Great Commuter” (though he most certainly could have been if only someone had had the foresight to nickname him that and then made sure to call him that repeatedly in front of others so it stuck, and then taken the time to write it down somewhere to make sure it wasn’t forgotten about because you know sometimes how historical things like that can get lost in memory or even someone’s attic [except for that phony Civil War saber on “Antiques Road Show” that supposedly had been used to cut watermelon; yeah, right] and then it’s not found out about until years later and, of course, by that time, no one’s really sure whether it’s true or not).

· Reagan was probably the better shot.

· Hamilton was probably the better actor.

Well, those observations may have been interesting (or not), but they don’t really prove anything. They’re a lot like those famous Lincoln/Kennedy “coincidences” that probably just about everyone’s seen. You know, the ones with the breathless exclamations like: “After Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated, they were both DEAD!!” Or: “Lincoln and Kennedy EACH became president after winning a presidential ELECTION!!” (After the 2000 presidential appointment process, this statement is no longer, in the words of ex-CIA chief George “Fall on My Sword” Tenet, a “slam dunk.”)

So, I took one last shot (just so you know, I allow myself one really bad pun per column) to see if I could come up with something—anything—that would make the Reagan-for-Hamilton switch sound even remotely sensible. After about ten seconds of exhaustive investigation, I instead found the following: Reagan, in addition to cozying up to and backing Saddam Hussein, also supported brutally suppressive regimes in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Argentina; favored South Africa’s policy of apartheid; compiled record deficits; almost tripled our national debt; had a lousy record on AIDS, civil rights, organized labor, homelessness, and the environment; and, of course, was on duty while the illegal, sordid Iran/Contra affair unfolded (though, in all fairness, it may have happened during Reagan’s nap times).

Also, his disastrous “Reaganomics” planted the first real seeds of America’s ever-expanding income gap, and has now flowered fully into long-running stagnant wages and decreased benefits for average Americans. However, according to sources that are very high—I’m sorry; that should be “sources that are highly placed”--Reaganomics was actually presented to the president by a circus performer friend who dabbled in screwball monetary theory. Reagan rightfully thought the plan’s title odd, but then caught a break: When the hard-of-hearing reporter to whom the scheme was first introduced mistakenly labeled it “trickle-down economics” instead of “Tickles the Clown economics,” Reagan, ever the opportunist, recognized a good thing when he heard it and kept quiet. (He settled with the clown later).

Hamilton, on the other hand, did none of these things. So I say Amazin’ Al (another handle that apparently didn’t catch on) stays on the ten-dollar bill. If any further convincing is needed, perhaps these woefully reality-challenged quotes from Reagan describing the Nicaraguan Contras will provide it: He called them "our brothers, these freedom fighters” and then trumped that by saying they were “the moral equal of our founding fathers." Hmm…Hamilton, Contra, Hamilton, Contra. Yeah, that’s a toughie, all right, but one thing I know for sure is that anyone thickheaded enough to make such a historically brain-dead assertion has no place replacing a true founding father in any capacity.

But, lest anyone get the wrong idea, I have nothing at all against giving Teflon Ron his just recognition. If some folks want to monetarily memorialize the man who nailed the greatest acting performance in American history--for eight very, very long years--so be it. In fact, in fitting honor of the man who, as president, looked genuine but lacked any real value, I’d have no problem recommending Reagan’s image be placed prominently and immediately on the three-dollar bill.

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 11 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
kayfabe, phony Smart & Final Friday, Jul. 02, 2004 at 7:45 PM
hamilton, eww more rational Friday, Jul. 02, 2004 at 8:54 PM
Even two centuries post-mortem... Mark Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 5:13 AM
The Founding Fathers Brother, can you spare a Reagan? Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 7:13 AM
historical revisionists Sheepdog Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 9:02 AM
Irrelevant footnotes do not a History make American Hamburger Helper Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 11:35 AM
another nickle Sheepdog Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 12:28 PM
founding fathers more rational Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 1:36 PM
heroes more rational Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 1:52 PM
more crap from the pseudopatriot more rational Saturday, Jul. 03, 2004 at 1:57 PM
serving infidel #145134 American Hamburger Helper Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2004 at 2:12 PM

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