My son earns his allowance by doing chores. Each night he checks them off on a magnetic board, and then each Saturday we tally up how many chores he’s done, and he gets his cash. At this point he has to divide it up into three categories – “give”, “spend”, and “save”. “Give” is money he gives to charity (such as when he bought canned food for a food drive), “save” is money he is saving to buy a large toy, and ‘spend” is money he can just take when we go shopping and use to buy anything he wants. The idea is, obviously, to get him used to the idea of savings and giving to charity now while he’s young.
This time, he’s looking at the faces on the money (coins and dollar bills), and for the first time he’s asking quesitons about who the people on the money are. I’m explaining that, for the most part, they’re presidents. he thinks about that, and thinks about some things he heard at dinner last night, and considers the money he’s holding carefully. “Dad,” he finally asks, “will President Trump be on money?”
“Son,” I say, “I have no idea.”
That’s an interesting question. The short answer, of course, is “not right now.”
It’s against the law.
United States Code, Title 31, Section 5114(b) states that:
United States currency has the inscription “In God We Trust” in a place the Secretary decides is appropriate. Only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on United States currency and securities. The name of the individual shall be inscribed below the portrait.
So, unless the law is changed, as of the date this article is published he doesn’t meet the legal requirements. President Trump is, after all, still very much alive.
How about after he dies?
In that case, it’s up to either the Congress or the Secretary of the Treasury. Under the question “Why were certain individuals chose to be pictured on our paper currency?” in the US Department of the Treasury Resource Center, we learn that:
As with our nation’s coinage, the Secretary of the Treasury usually selects the designs shown on United States currency. Unless specified by an Act of Congress, the Secretary generally has the final approval. This is done with the advice of Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) officials.
The law prohibits portraits of living persons from appearing on Government Securities. Therefore, the portraits on our currency notes are of deceased persons whose places in history the American people know well.
The basic face and back designs of all denominations of our paper currency in circulation today were selected in 1928, although they were modified to improve security against counterfeiting starting in 1996. A committee appointed to study such matters made those choices. The only exception is the reverse design of the one-dollar bill. Unfortunately, however, our records do not suggest why certain Presidents and statesmen were chosen for specific denominations.
This is expanded on in the Second Legal Tender Act, also sometimes referred to as the “July 11, 1862 Act of Congress” Section 2 of that act states:
And be it further enacted, That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and is hereby, authorized, in case he shall think it inexpedient to procure said notes, or any part thereof, to be engraved and printed by contract, to cause the said notes, or any part thereof, to be engraved, printed, and executed, in such form as he shall prescribe, at the Treasury Department in Washington, and under his direction; and he is hereby empowered to purchase and provide all the machinery and materials, and to employ such persons and appoint such officers as may be necessary for this purpose.
The line “in such form as he shall prescribe” is what gives the Secretary of the Treasury his (or her, although so far a woman has not served as Secretary of the Treasury) the power to decide who goes on US currency. This is a power granted to the Secretary by the US Congress, however, as Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States specifically grants the Congress the power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures”. They don’t tend to get involved with who is on money very frequently, but they have passed legislation specifying the design of coins. Nothing’s stopping them from doing it with paper money, as well.
With all that in mind,will Trump be on our money?
The portraits that currently appear on US paper currency were determined in 1929 and, despite an attempt to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, they haven’t changed since that time. The youngest president to appear on US paper currency is Woodrow Wilson, and he died in 1924. I’m not expecting to see any changes any time soon. But paper currency isn’t the only form of currency out there. There’s also coins.
31 U.S. Code § 5112 governs “Denominations, specifications, and design of coins”. It covers quite a bit of territory and includes subsection (n) “Redesign and Issuance of Circulating $1 Coins Honoring Each of the Presidents of the United States”. Starting in 2007, $1 coins have been issued with the likeness of presidents – four each year, in order of presidential service. The law specifies that only dead presidents may be on the coins and that, once all of the dead presidents have been represented on the law will terminate and the coin design will revert to the “Sacajawea” dollar coin. The last president to appear on one of these coins was Ronald Reagan, on a coin issued in 2016.
That section of 31 U.S. Code § 5112 is now null and void, having served it’s purpose. But a similar law could be passed again and, if President Trump is dead by that time, he would qualify.