By Mark Lehman
Given the popular groundswell of opinion that Ronald Reagan should replace FDR on the dime, and without broaching the subject of the propriety of even attempting to compare the two, you can easily see that the use of portraits of actual persons on our currency is not a uniting factor.
Liberty, presumably, is valuable to all, particularly to Americans. You may, and probably do, have your own opinions about Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Eisenhower and JFK, as well as the propriety of using any one of them as a paradigm for the present.
Personal points of view might make Washington a freedom fighter or a terrorist. Franklin could be seen as an American genius in both the classical and “Einstinian” definitions of the word, or a dissipate international playboy, at very least a philanderer. Jefferson’s ownership of and presumed relationships with slaves stands in stark contrast to his authoring of the Declaration of Independence. Obviously we could draw similarly conflicting potential viewpoints about how appropriate any single human being is to represent our national psyche.
The allegorical personification of Liberty, however, is not in any way a bone of contention. Americans of every possible political orientation and personal belief system are sincere in their revering of Liberty, or at least tell themselves they are.
Actual human beings are appropriate subjects for commemorative coinages. Anyone who lived through the 1950s and 1960s, as I did, will remember how the half dollar coin nearly magically vanished from circulation in the mid 1960s. The portrayal of JFK on a coin within a year of his assassination made the work-a-day half dollar into an instant and unintended commemorative coin that was saved out of circulation almost immediately by nearly everyone. How long has it been since you received a half-dollar in change?
Liberty, however, is not subject to any of the effects of the cult of personality. Liberty is a shared vision for all. An allegorical personification of Liberty was the first memorable glimpse of America seen by the forbearers of a huge percentage of the present population.
Liberty as a concept is still as widely revered as it ever was. Waiting time in line to visit the Statue of Liberty is measured in hours, day after day, year in and year out as an extremely popular destination. Far more than a tourist attraction, it is more of an American place of pilgrimage.
In short, Liberty unites, personality divides. We are in far more need of uniting circumstances and symbols than in more cults of personality.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Mark Lehman, president of Ancient Coins for Education.
To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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