'All About the Ronnies, Baby!' Republican Congressman Pushes to Put Reagan on $50 Bill

Will it be goodbye to Ulysses S. Grant?

March 3, 2010, 6:18 PM

March 4, 2010 — -- In 1998, rapper P. Diddy introduced the nation to a new phrase. "It's all about the Benjamins, baby," he said, referring to $100 bills with the face of Benjamin Franklin.

Given the tough economic times, perhaps Diddy needs to update his song and aim for a smaller unit of currency.

And if Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., has his way, Diddy may soon be singing about "Ronnies," in honor of the nation's 40th president, Ronald Reagan.

McHenry has introduced legislation that would take President Ulysses S. Grant off of the $50 bill and replace him with Reagan.

"Every generation needs its own heroes," McHenry said in a statement. "One decade into the 21st century, it's time to honor the last great president of the 20th and give President Reagan a place beside Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy."

Franklin D. Roosevelt's profile is on the dime and Kennedy's is on the half-dollar.

As part of his push to get Reagan's portrait on the paper currency, McHenry called him "a modern day statesman, whose presidency transformed our nation's political and economic thinking."

Not so fast, said John Marszalek, executive director and managing editor of the Ulysses S. Grant Association at Mississippi State University.

"There wouldn't be a United States without Ulysses S. Grant, you could argue, because of the Civil War and the tremendous military leader he was even before he became president," Marszalek told ABC News.

Marszalek said Grant, who led the Union Army to victory during the Civil War and later served as the nation's 18th president, deserves to stay right where he is on the $50 bill.

"I don't think it's a good idea because U.S. Grant was the president who was in the White House at a time when the currency was under tremendous stress because of the Civil War," Marszalek said. "It was his administration that began the process to firm up the U.S. currency that allowed the great economic boom of the late 19th, early 20th century."

McHenry's office said public opinion should factor into the decision and as a result, Reagan is frankly more deserving of the currency distinction than Grant.

Is President Reagan Worth $50?

"In polls of presidential scholars, President Reagan consistently outranks President Grant," a statement from McHenry's office said. "In 2005, The Wall Street Journal conducted one such poll of bipartisan scholars which ranked President Reagan 6th and President Grant 29th."

Marszalek took issue with that assessment and said it depends on which century you're talking about.

"Grant is one of the most popular figures of the 19th century and really into the middle of the 20th century," Marszalek said. "I don't think it would be appropriate to remove President Grant from the American currency. I think the identification is that significant."

The legislation seems unlikely to go anywhere in the immediate future. It would first have to pass the House Financial Services Committee in a Democratically-controlled Congress. A similar measure, introduced in 2005 when the Republicans controlled the House, never made it out of committee.

A spokesperson at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing said that, ultimately, it is the secretary of the Treasury who has the authority to change the nation's currency.