August 28th, 2008 | by JOHN MINERVINI News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Politics, CLEAN UP

Hard Currency: Revisionist History as told by $1 Coins

hillary coin

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.

Jackson coin

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.

Elizabeth_Monroe_Gold_Coin_First_Spouse-artists

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.

Star Jones Coin

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.

hemmings coin

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?

new rufus

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.

mary todd coin

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?
 
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