Harriet Tubman was literally a freedom fighter. The “Moses” of the Underground Railroad liberated herself and dozens of others from slavery over the years in a biopic-worthy life of bravery and idealism.
She has now been selected to eventually replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, bumping him to the back in the worst defeat for Old Hickory since John Quincy Adams “stole” the presidency from him in 1824.
She escaped from a Maryland plantation in 1849, walking some 90 miles to her freedom. Tubman’s story has been repeated to generations of schoolchildren and is so well-worn – she was guided by the North Star and aided by the Underground Railroad – that it is easy to forget the terror and pathos of it.
Then she repeatedly returned in trips to save family members and others. The missions were hazardous (she carried a pistol) and sometimes involved near escapes. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse and a scout, and in later years, she was a suffragist. HBO is reportedly developing a movie, and it won’t lack for material.
Andrew Jackson is getting downgraded, but shouldn’t be relegated to the ash heap of history. Despite his flaws (he was a slave owner who causally disregarded the humanity of American Indians), he is a formidable American figure who, as a general, won the War of 1812 and, as president, firmly defended the Union from nascent Southern secessionism. If the standards of the 21st century are to be retroactively applied to every significant figure of our past, few will pass the test.
EDITORIAL: Tubman on the Twenty
One of the ironies of American slavery is that it made clear – self-evident, one might say – to those suffering under it the deep truth of the natural rights that undergird the American experiment (and were honored in the breach for so long). Tubman recalled thinking prior to her escape, “There’s two things I’ve got a right to, and these are, Death or Liberty – one or the other I mean to have.”
Is it possible to utter a more American sentiment? In an era of ethnic and gender bean-counting, everyone wants to keep score, but Harriet Tubman belongs to all of us. She won’t just appear on the twenty, but grace it.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2016 King Features Syndicate