Abolitionist Harriet Tubman has knocked former president Andrew Jackson off of the front of the $20 bill, the Treasury Department announced today. Jackson has been demoted to appearing on the back of the bill, even though there had been a movement to get him removed completely, on the grounds that he was a slave-owner, oversaw Indian removal as president, and didn’t believe in paper money.

In a way, that’s perhaps as it should be. As Eric Foner, the renowned historian of the Civil War era, remarked to me today, the way to fully represent our history is to “add, not necessarily to subtract.”

The move comes after a complicated series of events. The initial plan had been to remove Alexander Hamilton from the $10 and replace him with a woman. But the Hamilton-removal plan ran into fierce opposition from advocates who argued that he was a key early architect of our banking system — a lobbying campaign that gained the support of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author of the hit musical about Hamilton, which won a Pulitzer this week. Meanwhile, a grassroots movement targeting Jackson for removal and a push to put a woman on the $20 bill, to mark 2020 as the centennial of women gaining the right to vote, had also been gaining momentum for some time.

"Women on 20s," a campaign started earlier this year that has since inspired bills in the House and the Senate, is trying to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on $20 bills. (WomenOn20s.org)

The solution: Keep Hamilton on the $10; put Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20; and move Jackson to the back of that bill.

Tubman figures heavily in Professor Foner’s recent book about the abolitionist movement, “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”

“I approve of this,” Foner told me today. “Andrew Jackson was a slave owner. Harriet Tubman was an extremely remarkable person who showed tremendous courage and resourcefulness, liberating 70 or 80 people under very difficult circumstances.”

Foner stressed that honoring Tubman on the $20 bill actually represents a tremendous bumping up of her visibility, in the sense that now “every single person in the country will be carrying around Harriet Tubman in his or her wallet.”

But, Foner added, this also goes to the core of a broader debate: what is the best way to publicly acknowledge all of the facets of our history?

“The context is the ongoing debate over how history should be represented in public,” Foner said. “I approve of this. I think the best way to deal with it is to add, not necessarily subtract. The public recognition of history should represent the actual history. Including Harriet Tubman is more representative of the history of the United States.”

“In the south, I don’t think they should take down statues of Confederate leaders,” Foner continued. “They should put up statues of black congressmen and senators. It makes the public history more accurately reflect our entire history.”

Now the $20 bill literally represents two sides of our history — slave ownership and abolitionism.

“Until now the recognition has been one sided,” Foner concluded. “Now you have a bill which reflects both sides of a very important moment in American history.”