It took over two centuries, but the truth has finally caught up with George Washington. For 220 years, Washington’s dark secret laid undiscovered in a ledger of The New York Society Library, but it is now public: George Washington is a book scofflaw with overdue charges piling up for over 220 years on two books.
It turns out that Mr. “I Cannot Tell a Lie” had little difficulty in absconding with hot books. As a representative of George Washington University (a school whose original charter was paid by George Washington himself), I can only express a sense of great shame and self-loathing.
One of the books was the “Law of Nations” and the other was a volume of debates from Britain’s House of Commons. Both books were due on Nov. 2, 1789.
The selection of Law of Nations is interesting since it was an early work on international law. Recently, there has been a backlash against the Supreme Court’s application of international law rulings. The selection of the work on the House of Commons also reflects the continuing interest and reliance on English legal customs.
Notably, on April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York. On April 16, 1789 Washington left Mount Vernon to go to New York City, then the nation’s capital, for his inauguration.
These particular books were checked out on October 5, 1789. Notably, Washington was in New York on October 3, 1789, when he signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation — just blocks from the library. The proclamation gives thanks for “the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge.” Was this a taunt to the librarians hot on this trail or a subconscious cry for help?
The current fine has reached $300,000 according to one article, here, or roughly $4200 according to another article, here. Either way, they were even less likely to get the overdue charges in the eighteenth century. George Washington had to borrow money to go to New York for his inauguration.
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