[This belongs to my "From the Chairman" series for Massachusetts Citizens for Life: http://www.masscitizensforlife.org/change-currency-harriet-tubman-replaces-andrew-jackson/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork]
When the faces on our money change, it’s an important opportunity to reflect on our identity as a people.
In this presidential election year, we Americans are confronted with the necessity of undertaking a purification of memory at a decisive juncture, between a present into which all the capillary ambiguities of our past have debouched and a national future that it is our responsibility, as free citizens, to channel.
In this task, symbols matter, though only if those symbols give rise to thinking, opening a space of contemplation and meditation and common deliberation where we may grapple with first principles and their application to the crises of our time.
Since at least the Greek development of coinage, money has served an important role in the reinforcement of civic identity and as an expression of civil religion. What is more “current” in society than money?
Which evokes the question: what ought to course through a society as its vital force? Pro-lifers know that the lifeblood of preferential love for the poorest of the poor must circulate through the body politic, else it dies.
I’m going to take this opportunity to add to the praise of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for deciding to replace the image of Andrew Jackson with that of Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill.
This matters, if we take it as an occasion for thinking. This move touches on the origins of the two major political parties, and provides the opportunity for members of both parties to grapple with the trajectories of their tending.
It is indeed remarkable that a Democratic official has demoted the founder of his own party. But President Jackson, a slave-owning member of the planter elite, richly deserves the dishonor, above all, for the genocidal Trail of Tears.
Tubman was, of course, a Republican, belonging to the party founded precisely to stop the metastasizing of slavery in America. She was a remarkable American, a slave who escaped slavery and returned to the dark places to save others. Truly, one of the great ones. She embodied, lectured on, and literally battled for (as a Civil War military hero), the truth of the American proposition, the truth that pro-lifers cling to: every single human life has equal dignity, endowed by the Creator of all; therefore, the first end of government is to secure the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of each and every human being.
That was Lincoln’s republicanism. That was hers. And it is ours. And it should be the creed of both parties.
The question pro-life Democrats and Republicans must ask: how have the parties served and how have the parties failed to serve the most fundamental rationale for the American Republic?
Republicans in this Commonwealth must grapple with the fact that the state Republican Party has not unambiguously argued for the preferential option for the most powerless human life.
Personally, I am thrilled that Alexander Hamilton stays on the $10 bill. An orphaned immigrant, a Revolutionary War hero, the chief theorist of the Constitution, Hamilton singlehandedly swayed the New York Convention to ratify the Constitution against impossible odds. There would be no America had he not done so. His vision for an energetic and enterprising nation would live on in Lincoln. I still believe in that vision (which Jackson fought against), but it must be admitted that the ambiguities of the centralization of power have become overwhelming.
The most impossible ambiguity is this: the most powerful nation on earth sanctions and advocates for the killing of the most powerless lives on earth. It is a horror. An absolute horror.
The currency of the world, money and power, must flow in the channels of solidary love, must become the currency of the Creator’s providential care for each person. The images on the coins of the realm should be images of self-sacrificial love.