Are We Going to See Ronald Reagan on America's $50 Bill?

By Cornwell, Rupert | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), March 7, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Are We Going to See Ronald Reagan on America's $50 Bill?


Cornwell, Rupert, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Deep-seated US conservatism when it comes to bank notes may yet keep Ulysses S Grant in place Out of America A sour note

Liberals are aghast. Historians of America's Civil War are beside themselves. How could anyone seek to change the image on the US $50 bill, replacing Ulysses S Grant - the Union general who accepted the surrender of Robert E Lee in 1865 - with a one-time Hollywood actor nicknamed the Gipper?

Yet that is exactly what Patrick McHenry, a Congressman from North Carolina is seeking to do. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, and last Friday Mr McHenry formally introduced the "President Ronald Reagan $50 Bill Act", stipulating that all such banknotes printed from the start of 2011 "shall bear the likeness of President Ronald Wilson Reagan". First, however, the good congressman must overcome Americans' reluctance to change the way their money looks.

On the face of it, the change would not be unreasonable. Those depicted on a country's currency are normally its greatest citizens. Grant, who conducted a victorious campaign across the South, was one of Abraham Lincoln's most aggressive and successful commanders. But his eight years as the country's 18th president were, to put it politely, mediocre.

Less than a generation has passed since Reagan was in the White House, but historians now regularly rank Reagan among the top dozen US presidents. Yes, he remains controversial, as disliked by many Democrats as he is revered by Republicans. But you could argue he's no more controversial than Grant is in some corners of the old Confederacy even today.

But changing the faces on American coins and banknotes is not that simple. For a president, the only quick way of being elevated to the currency is to die in office. Franklin Roosevelt was gracing the dime, worth 10 cents, in 1946, just a year after his death. JFK's ascent was even faster; the Kennedy half-dollar was designed within three months of his assassination in 1963.

Reagan, on the other hand, like Grant, had left the White House long before he died. Grant's supporters had to wait until 1913, 28 years after his death, before he popped up on the $50 bill and, on this timetable, Reagan should not appear on a banknote until at least 2032. Iin terms of being officially remembered, he's not doing badly already. An aircraft carrier, several highways and a gigantic federal building in Washington have been named after him - not to mention the capital's airport.

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