George Washington: War Hero, Father of Our Country . . . Book Scofflaw

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.

For the full story, click here.

65 thoughts on “George Washington: War Hero, Father of Our Country . . . Book Scofflaw”

  1. “Or Douglas Bader, an RAF pilot who took down 22 Luftwaffe aircraft despite being a double amputee. A man who save countless civilian lives when he could have just as easily stayed out of the war altogether.”


    Bader was heroic if only for coining this famous line, oft cited by WSC:

    “Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”

    I agree with you Buddha. Heroism (or more properly “courage”) comes in all manner of endeavors, and is particularly admired in times of extreme stress. Hemingway owns the classic definition, “Grace under pressure.”

  2. “The “war hero” oxymoron is cited throughout our history books. Like there is such thing?”

    Yes, there is such a thing. War is a terrible thing. It is the worst endeavor humans can engage in as a group (although arguably not as individuals). Unfortunately wars are sometimes necessary. But sometimes people do truly heroic things in a horrific situations. Selfless acts that save lives of compatriots and/or non-combatants.

    The problem is really to whom the title is applied.

    Example: It is commonly taught George Custer was a war hero for his actions at Little Big Horn. But the reality is that any heroics he did were during the Civil War. In fact, he was anything but a hero when it came to the Indians. He should be a footnote of a hero and it should be a footnote with a caveat.

    Example #2: U.S. Grant is considered a hero because of his winning record when the reality he was a drunkard and a mediocre tactician who would have had his ass kicked by Robert E. Lee (a far superior tactician) had the South had the benefits of industrialization that the North had during the Civil War. As a bonus, he was also a crap President. But hero? Hardly. And his compatriot Gen. Sherman, often characterized as a hero was well, was simply a war criminal.

    As was Curtis LeMay – the man responsible for the firebombing of Dresden.

    But contrast them with King Leonidas of Sparta and his actions at the Battle of Thermopylae. His story is heroic legend because it deserves to be. He took 300 men and held off the greatest standing army in the world at that time.

    Or Douglas Bader, an RAF pilot who took down 22 Luftwaffe aircraft despite being a double amputee. A man who save countless civilian lives when he could have just as easily stayed out of the war altogether.

    Or Oskar Schindler who risked his own life and the lives of his family to save 1,200 Jews during WWII.

    There are real heroes in war sometime. It’s just a label that shouldn’t be applied easily or often and rarely to leaders or generals.

    There are many war heroes through out history. Most of them are buried in unmarked graves and the only legacy they left is the people they saved by their selfless acts.

  3. The worst thing is that the American history books are written in such a fashion they perpetually extol any “virute” os Americas wars….feeding into the false axioms that have perculated through our history for too long. Cetainly not what I want to teach my child. The “war hero” oxymoron is cited throughout our history books. Like there is such thing? May as well extol the “Mafia hero” and the rapist hero………any other crime hero. If that is what you choose to cintinue to believe, please be sure your own kids fight some future useless American war…..daughters first since there seems to be a bit of gender discrimination out there.

  4. For Pants.

    From NNBCE


    Educating the Confused – Allegiance, protection and territorial limits

    Thanks to Dragging Canoe at Dr C’s blog we have another great reference:

    [quote]The municipal laws of most nations establish the rights of perpetual allegiance, but not of universal allegiance. Allegiance in fact is limited by space, and not by time. The power of a government is only co-extensive with its territorial limits, and the extension of its territorial power. Beyond these it can neither enforce duties nor extend protection. Now, the basis of allegiance is protection; and all legal duties must suppose, at least in theory and in the nature of things, an ability to enforce them: but beyond the territorial limits and the extension of the territorial power of a government, neither of these exist, no can, in the nature of things, exist; and, of course, beyond these, allegiance must cease. Out of these dominions the citizen cannot be subject to a power which in its nature can only exist within them. [unquote]

    There are some who ‘argue’ that since President Obama was born to a father who held a non-US citizenship, that Obama thus had conflicting allegiances. This is based on a flawed understanding of the concept of allegiance. Allegiance, as the above quote shows, depends on protection. While within the territorial limits of the United States, Obama is fully bound by the laws and protection of the United States and thus owes allegiance to the United States. Since the country of Obama’s father’s citizenship holds no rights over the United States, Obama is therefor outside its territorial limits and thus does not owe allegiance to this foreign country. In other words, President Obama was born under full jurisdiction of and owing full allegiance to the United States. As such he was born on United States soil, and under its jurisdiction and therefor not just a citizen, but a natural born citizen.


    “…the basis of allegiance is protection…. “ “…beyond the territorial limits…allegiance must cease.”

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