(Originally published November 2016) The news in late April that Alexander Hamilton would remain on the $10 bill and that Harriet Tubman would grace the $20, replacing Andrew Jackson, greatly pleased me. There is much to admire in both individuals, and I have connections to both—photographically speaking.
A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed in New York. For the first part of our trip, I attended a conference in NYC. We, however, had a few days of free time in which to walk around the city. Of course, a must stop was the 9/11 site, and on our way we passed Trinity Church. Alexander Hamilton, as you can see by the adjacent photograph, is buried in the church’s graveyard. Hamilton has long been one of my heroes. He is primarily responsible for the United States’ sound financial footing at the beginning of our democracy.
The movement to replace Hamilton on the $10 was misguided, in my opinion. Without him, we likely wouldn’t have any greenbacks. Hamilton, as first secretary of the treasury, advocated that the federal government take over the debts of the individual states accumulated because of the Revolutionary War. States that had already paid off most, if not all, of their debts did not appreciate that they would have to subsidize states with outstanding obligations. Hamilton negotiated a compromise (it’s the reason why the nation’s capital is where it’s at) that essentially allowed his policy to go through.
Although I had heard of Tubman in my high school history class, I’m not as familiar with her life as I am with Hamilton’s. But I can say that I almost got arrested while on the way to her home.
On the same vacation in which we saw Hamilton’s grave, we also visited Tubman’s home outside of Auburn, New York. The actual reason we drove to Auburn, however, was to tour the home of William Seward—he of Alaska folly fame and Abe Lincoln’s secretary of state. Unfortunately, we were in Auburn on Independence Day, and Seward’s home was closed to the public. But my wife and I circled the house and snapped some pictures. I was intrigued by the carriage shed, and put my hand on the door handle. The door opened and set off an alarm. Within minutes, the cops showed up.
Thankfully, an officer assured my wife and me that we were not under arrest, and he allowed us to leave. I told the patrolman that we were headed to Tubman’s house, only two miles down the road, just in case we set off alarms there.
Sure enough, the Tubman house was closed for the holiday. But we did walk around the grounds and took a few photos. And I pointedly refrained from touching any doorknobs.
Note to trustees of national landmarks: Independence Day is precisely the one day of the year your properties should be open to the public—especially in the case of a woman who helped free so many of her brethren.