“Hamilton” is more meaningful than money ever will be

In a reversal of a 2015 decision, the Department of Treasury announced today that Alexander Hamilton is staying on the $10.

And the populace rejoiced.

You see, back in summer of 2015, Treasury announced it was time to put a female face on American money. There was much celebration of this step (we told you at the time it was essentially a meaningless gesture in gender equality), but also a small, vocal group of people who said we should dump Andrew Jackson from the $20 instead of Hamilton from the $10.

The outcry was small, but a funny thing was happening at the same time. A hip hop musical about the founding father was moving to Broadway. In the last 9 months, it has become a phenomenon. Just this week, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton” won a Pulitzer Prize.

Due in large part to the success of the musical, Treasury is now backpedaling and dumping Jackson.

At Indiana Explained, we don’t really care who is on our money. What a lot of people are failing to realize is that the art — in this case, Hamilton — has done and will continue to do more for the legacy of a person than currency.

When it comes to culture, cash is a lagging indicator. Art is leading.

It’s the same reason Sacajawea did not become a household name when she was placed on a $1 coin.

To illustrate, here is a Google Trend chart of the three people in question.

For more than a decade, Hamilton was out of America’s collective conscience despite being on the $10. That is, until last fall, when the cast recording was released and the meteoric rise started.

Tubman, who has never been on money, has been searched far more than Hamilton or Jackson ever were. Notice she peaks every February. Black History Month. When school students are learning about and researching famous African Americans.

The irony of this whole discussion is that the show, which wrestles with how and why a person is remembered, will do more to influence perception of Alexander Hamilton than anything before it. Treasury can try to play its part, and I’m sure Miranda and others appreciate the gesture, but they have no control over who tells the story.

I’m headed to NYC next month, and I’ve looked at ticket prices. I’d have to fork over 70 bills that bear Hamilton’s face to see the musical that bears his name.

The cash will crumple and fade. And someday soon will probably cease to be used at all. But “Hamilton” is going to live on forever on stages from Broadway to your local high school and in the heads of anyone who has ever heard the catchy tunes and brilliant lyrics.

Why putting a woman on the $10 doesn’t matter

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