By now you've heard that Portland has been chosen by the US Mint
as one of four cities in which it will pilot efforts to encourage use of the new $1 coins.
But before you start flag-waving, consider the coins themselves. Forget, for a moment, the “In God We Trust” inscription—that age-old offense against the separation of Church and State
. Instead, let's focus on the concepts and characters depicted on the coins, all of which endorse a version of US history that is both inaccurate and frequently downright offensive.
In this week's WW
, you learned how Oregonian Native Americans react to a coin commemorating Andrew Jackson, a president responsible for the deaths of at least 4,000 Cherokees. (Click here
to read the full article). Allow me, then, to suggest an alternative design for the Andrew Jackson presidential $1 coin, in a special “Trail of Tears” edition.
But perhaps more frustrating than the presidential coins themselves are the “First Spouse" coins.
That's right: each year, in addition to four new presidential coins, the US Mint will release four gold dollars featuring First Ladies. Here's an example.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for honoring First Ladies. But, from a feminist point of view, are these really the American women most worth honoring? The wives
of important men
? Before we make a coin out of Abigail Fillmore—famous for her beautiful flower garden—how about we start with Ida B. Wells
, African American educator and founder of the NAACP? Or Clara Barton
, who started the American Red Cross? Or Amelia Earhart
, or Louisa May Alcott
, or Harriet Tubman
? Or even Star Jones
, for goodness sake.
Of course, the “First Spouse” coins give the impression that the institution of presidential matrimony has been, generally speaking, happy, faithful and exclusively heterosexual. In reality, First Marriage is anything but
. Documented instances of adultery have dogged presidents Harding, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton, Roosevelt (Franklin), Wilson and Johnson. And although Thomas Jefferson may not have been married during his presidency, he certainly didn't mind siring an illegitimate child with his slave Sally Hemmings
Then there's James Buchanan. Buchanan, who never married, lived together with another man, former Vice President Rufus King, for fifteen years. Many of President Buchanan's contemporaries, including the ever-tactful Andrew Jackson
, referred to King as Buchanan's wife, “Aunt Nancy” and “Miss Fancy.” Both Buchanan's and King's families burned their correspondence after the two men died
, but there is considerable evidence that they were lovers. So, since we're being honest anyway, shouldn't Buchanan's “First Spouse” coin depict Rufus King?
In recent years, there has also been speculation that Abraham Lincoln was gay, including this thoroughly-researched book-length study by C.A. Tripp
. But then again, if you were coming home to Mary Todd Lincoln every night, bisexuality might look pretty good.
So why can't we just see presidential marriages for what they are—in the main, a series of mergers and acquisitions between America's wealthiest and most influential families? After all, nobody's trying to put Melania Knauss
on our coinage. And then, has anybody considered the agony that a “First Spouse” coin is going to cause Hillary Clinton?