I cannot tell a lie: George Washington’s library fines top $300,000
After centuries of standing for all that is brave and virtuous in the American character, George Washington — hero of the Revolution, first president of the Republic — turns out to not only have wooden teeth but also feet of clay: He was a library thief!
The Father of Our Country borrowed two books from the New York Society Library in 1789 and failed to return them, reports the BBC News. After 220 years, the late fees have mounted up, at a few pennies a day, to something like $300,000.
“We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” head librarian Mark Bartlett told the Guardian. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”
That seems unlikely to happen, alas. The books are lost to history.
Washington’s cavalier failure to return the library books today shames our great nation. It’s not enough that the story is reported by British news outlets. It is also being trumpeted around the globe:
“Out of this world: Washington racks up late fees at library,” crows the Manila Bulletin. “George Washington owes fine for overdue books,” exults the Voice of Russia. Australia’s Herald Sun clucks sadly, “President George Washington’s $300,000 late-book fee.”
Time will tell how the Obama Administration reacts to this stunning blow to America’s international prestige, but some experts say a Mount Vernon bailout may be in order, while others speculate the White House could exert pressure on the library to forgive the fines and expunge Washington’s record.
The damage seems to have been done. One of the missing books is The Law of Nations, an essay on international affairs, while the other is Vol. 12 of a 14-volume collection of debates from the British House of Commons. Washington’s perfidy came to light only because the library has been digitizing its historical records.
Casting Washington’s malfeasance in the worst possible light: Other prominent political figures borrowed volumes from the same collection of debates and returned them on time. These include Alexander Hamilton, first treasury secretary; John Jay, first chief justice of the Supreme Court; and even Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s vice president who was later tried for treason (though acquitted).
Washington, five months into his presidency, seems to have been arrogant and high handed from the beginning of the sordid affair. New York still served as the nation’s temporary capital, and the society offered the city’s only lending library of the time. Washington could not even be troubled to sign the borrower’s ledger.
An aide jotted down the word “president” with a quill pen. Presumably the term “POTUS” had not yet come into usage.
Can a nation already discouraged by a damaged economy and still mourning the end of Jon and Kate’s marriage recover from this latest revelation? Or will the knowledge of George Washington’s true character plunge us deeper into gloom and despair?
Perhaps it is time to dethrone Washington and name a more worthy Father of our Country — someone hip and sexy and up-to-date? Early front runners: James Cameron, Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs and Justin Bieber (despite being Canadian). Nominations are still open.