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Relief At Hamilton College As Namesake Stays On $10 Bill

The U.S. Treasury Department’s announcement this week that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill brought a sigh of relief on one central New York campus.

When word came last year that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was considering dropping Alexander Hamilton from the sawbuck to give an important woman from American history some facetime, Carl Rubino wasn’t thrilled.

“I’m very taken with his personality. I’ve read a lot of books about him,” Rubino says.

Rubino is a classics professor at — where else? — Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.

“I’m kind of a Hamilton junkie, I guess,” Rubino says.

On that front, Rubino is not alone: by now, even if you can’t get tickets, you’ve probably heard about the Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway juggernaut Hamilton, which has ignited a new round of interest in the Founding Father, even pushing Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, the inspiration for the rap musical, back onto the best-sellers list.

Cliff’s Notes version: the orphaned adopted Empire Stater argued for the Constitution, writing most of the Federalist Papers, had ties to Albany, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and famously died after a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.

He was also a trustee at the academy that would become Hamilton College in 1812.

Rubino, who is retiring this summer, has taught a course on the classical tradition in American politics concentrating on Cicero, Jefferson and Hamilton and attended the reenactment of the Burr-Hamilton duel on the fateful day’s 200th anniversary in 2004.  

Secretary Lew announced Wednesday that in the end, Hamilton is safe on the $10 bill. Instead, President Andrew Jackson will be moved to the back of the $20 to make way for Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and former slave who helped other slaves escape.

“I have my reservations that perhaps if it weren’t for the Broadway play and the massive success it’s had, that Lew would have gone ahead with his plan to replace Hamilton, so I’m delighted and I think Miranda is really kind of a genius guy,” Rubino says.

Senator Chuck Schumer called it a “a double win for New York — Hamilton on the $10, Tubman on the $20 — linking upstate and downstate.”

Rubino says the students agree.

"They like the idea that Hamilton is staying where he belongs,” he says.

But even with the monetary reprieve, Rubino believes Hamilton’s still not getting his due.

“There’s a statue on campus and everybody knows about it. It’s right outside the chapel so people see it a lot, and Joan Stewart, the president, has really taken a real interest in him. She’s the first president in a long time to do so and so he’s around more than he was, but you know, the knowledge about him still lags behind people like George Washington and Abe Lincoln, who are known to everybody.”

Tubman isn’t the only new face coming to our currency: suffrage pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth and Alice Paul will appear on the back on the $10. Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. will be featured on the $5.

Some of us are more likely to pay attention to the number on a bill, not the face, but Rubino says historical figures have mattered to contemporary people since antiquity.

“My wife is fond of quoting a passage saying the past is not past, it’s still present. There’s something about these people that grabs our attention,” Rubino says.

At any rate — no matter whose face is on the front, you’ll  need about 42 $10 bills to buy the average ticket to see Hamilton on Broadway — unless you win the daily $10 ticket lottery.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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