Harriet Tubman’s “Live Free or Die” Spirit

By now, you’re probably aware that the $20 bill is getting a facelift. Apparently, our government has nothing better to do than turn our paper currency into wallet-sized political billboards, starting with replacing the image of white, male, Democrat and slaveholder President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) with that of black, female, Republican and abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1822-1913).

Harriet Tubman

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Harriet Tubman’s image appearing on our currency. I can care less that she’s black, or a woman for that matter. Those are just superficial differences that progressive bureaucrats love to exploit, even though such attributes say nothing about the value of an individual.

However, what intrigues me most about Tubman is that, despite being born into slavery on a Maryland plantation in 1822, she refused to think of herself as a victim. You might even say she was driven by a “Live Free or Die” spirit. Unfortunately, this side of Tubman is never mentioned in the history books. Therefore, I shall do the honors.

Ask any kid today about Harriet Tubman and they will say she’s the famous slave turned conductor of the “Underground Railroad”—a network of secret routes and safe houses that provided fleeing slaves in the South a path to freedom in the North during the 1850s.

But did you know this freedom loving woman was also a devout Christian who drew on her faith as a source of strength to get through the most trying times? In a conversation with her early biographer and friend, Sarah Bradford, Tubman recalled how she made the decision to escape slavery in 1849:

“I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”

If these words don’t embody a “Live Free or Die” ethos, I don’t know what does. Then there’s this little historical gem as described by another Tubman biographer Kate Clifford Larson:

“Harriet Tubman carried a small pistol with her on her rescue missions, mostly for protection from slave catchers, but also to encourage week-hearted runaways from turning back and risking the safety of the rest of the group. Tubman carried a sharp shoot-shooters rifle during the civil war.”

Tubman didn’t just exercise her inalienable right to self-defense, but armed self-defense at a time when the Democratic Party denied blacks access to personal firearm security and the ability to exercise their Second Amendment right after the Civil War. Some say slavery would never have happened had blacks been armed. Looks like Tubman saw the connection between guns and freedom, too. You can check out Tubman’s personal pistol and other artifacts at the Florida A & M Black Archive Research Center.

The Underground Railroad reached its height of activity after Democrats passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This insidious law allowed Free Blacks to be carried into slavery, prompting some 20,000 blacks in the north to flee into Canada. Needless to say, Tubman’s freedom missions were so dangerous that, in addition to her handy pistol, she relied on disguises to evade recapture herself.

Still, between 1850-1860, Tubman liberated an estimated 60 to 70 slaves, mostly family and friends. She also provided maps and instructions to another 60 to 70 people who found their way to freedom on their own. These numbers are a far cry from what textbooks often embellish. Nevertheless, her unselfish deeds were no small undertaking. What could be more perilous than a runaway slave helping other slaves to runaway?

Tubman was also a staunch supporter of the Republican Party. And why wouldn’t she be? After all, the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as the anti-slavery party, which later passed sweeping civil rights legislation. Take, for example, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that officially abolished slavery in 1864.  Of the 118 Republicans in Congress (House and Senate) at the time, all 118 voted in favor of the legislation, while only 19 of 82 Democrats voted likewise.  Then there’s the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments guaranteeing rights of citizenship and voting to black males.  Not a single Democrat voted in favor of either the Fourteenth (House and Senate) or Fifteenth (House and Senate) Amendments. Given this, it should be no surprise that the latter half of the 19th Century, and for much of the early half of the 20th Century, it was the Republican Party that was the party of choice for blacks.

Now that we know more about Harriet “Live Free or Die” Tubman, surely progressives will want to celebrate her, make Hollywood movies about her, and perhaps even update textbooks to reflect more accurately this Christian, gun-toting, liberty lover who risked her own life to liberate others. Right? Don’t hold your breath.

I hate to be a pessimist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all those progressives in government, academia, and Hollywood who have hailed Tubman as an American hero worthy of a place on our currency suddenly had second thoughts. She simply doesn’t fit their narrow vision of what a compliant black woman should be like. That’s because they see America as one big gun-free government plantation where people are encouraged to wear their victimhood as badges of moral virtue.

In the end, however, Harriet Tubman is not even expected to appear on the $20 bill until 2020. Who knows, by that time maybe those in charge of the makeover will have learned too much about Tubman, labeled her an Uncle Tom, and moved on to another person. After all, I don’t think they really want to shine light on yet another escapee best known for her resistance to the Democratic Party.

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