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I cannot tell a lie: George Washington’s library fines top $300,000

April 19, 2010

George Washington: The rules are for little people.

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.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    April 19, 2010 1:17 pm

    Thank You Chauncey, this article really makes me feel better about my own late/lost book fines.

    Jeez, talk about “And now for the rest of the story”, never would have thought ol’ Georgie Boy would do something as heinous as forgetting to return a book. I think I will burn all my “What Would George Washington Do?” t-shirts and bracelets.

    I nominate Hurley, everybody loves Hurley. I also nominate Kip Drordy.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 19, 2010 3:36 pm

      Hurley would never, ever neglect to return a library book. Of course, the library might get blasted by a meteor the instant he walked out the doors. But it would explode with all its books inside.

  2. April 19, 2010 2:14 pm

    George was not even the first president. He was the first President after the change of the name of the country . I think it was actually The United Federated States of America with the first president . Something like that. He was second. You have that. The Cherry tree and now the book fine. They will be talking about him to night on the crazy channels.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 19, 2010 3:37 pm

      They’re all crazy channels, which is why I most often watch Syfy or Comedy Central. “The United Federated States of America?” Sounds more like a department store chain. No wonder they changed it.

  3. April 19, 2010 3:02 pm

    Ohhhh no Chancy… Those Tea Party peeps aren’t going to be happy about this blog. Watch out brother!!!! LOL j/k

    Great read. I heard them talking about this today on NPR.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 19, 2010 3:38 pm

      As a hardcore coffee drinker, I fear no Tea Partier in this great land of ours.

  4. April 19, 2010 3:03 pm

    Damn it! Where’s the edit button? LOL Sorry about the misspell on your name brother!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 19, 2010 3:39 pm

      If I had a quarter – nay! a dime! — for every time my name as been misspelled (or mispronounced), I’d be able to retire in Solomonic luxury. So no worries, all is forgiven,

  5. John Karwacki permalink
    April 19, 2010 10:58 pm

    I vote for Chauncey, who could be more hip and up to date? Any overdue library items, Chauncey?

    • Tommy Smart permalink
      April 20, 2010 12:52 am

      I am pretty sure the book on “Cool” (now Hotness) has something in the very first chapter about using words like “Solomonic” and “hip”. It says, and I quote, “Don’t”.

      I still vote for Hurley! Sure, some say he has bad luck, but it’s only been one meteorite, one (well, now two) dynamite explosions, one shady dad, one house fire, one high-speed police pursuit, two plane crashes and one girlfriend. Could happen to anybody.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        April 20, 2010 10:44 am

        No one has called me “cool” since, like, ever, so I long ago gave up aspirations of ever achieving that blessed state. On the good side: I’m free to use words like “Solomonic” at will.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        April 20, 2010 10:58 am

        That’s a pretty coo response, even with the word Solomonic. Who knows, maybe you are the new polar bears toe nails.

  6. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 20, 2010 12:37 am

    You honor me, sir, but if nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve. Why? My candidacy would not withstand a good background check…I came of age in the ’70s remember. We knew how to have fun.

  7. April 20, 2010 10:41 am

    It is here I make my second announcement. I am forming a new party. We are called “Streamers. ” We come from our new land called ” The Indian Stream Republic”. Make not a mistake we are here in great numbers. We stand for the greater of man kind. We are the polar opposite of the Tea people. You will see. We are here. We like to fish and walk in the woods. Best always.

    Michael John McCann
    Mayor of PurpleUmpkin
    President the Streamers and The Indian Stream Republic.

  8. Jeremy James Leo Iees permalink
    January 17, 2011 11:29 am

    George Washington is always first and most comfortable for me to have in my billfold. His Greatness is in my heart. And He only calls on those who havent done that evil drug called meth. For I have never done it under oath I have not! And when i turn 32 damn right Im handed in my voucher for president. I am an eligible young man (21 yr. old). and when and if I make it to see 32 I will make it right for all Nations and the US. i am very smart so don’t give me any ethical disappreciation. I will go far for my people I am clean from all diseases thank God. I dont need money to cover up my STD like Barrack Obama cuz i dont have 1 and i am a Man that can live without a woman. Though i would like to have my own kids someday and make my parents proud. AMEN.

  9. January 25, 2011 11:32 pm

    im secretly related to george washington

  10. Mary James permalink
    March 13, 2012 1:26 am

    What a STUPID thing to talk about, regarding a True Hero. Do you know what a hero is? The right person, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing for the benefit of others. Who are our heroes today? Can you think of one? I’m ashamed of you people for being so small. Don’t think that people on The Other Side of the Veil–in what is called Rreality– don’t know what goes on down here. They hear the talk, believe me. He even know of this smallness. Bad karma for you!


  1. Lost week continues: lost Booker winner, plus Geo. Washington’s overdue books « Open Page

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