George Washington Is Responsible For A Library Book 221 Years Overdue

April 7th, 2014

On October 5, 1789, five months after taking the oath at Federal Hall in New York City, President George Washington checked out two books from the New York Society. The books were was “The Law of Nations” by Emmerich Vatel and Commons Debates. The librarian noted the “President” took them out int the ledger. They books were due on November 2, 1789, and fines begin to accrue. The records of this loan were lost until 1934 when the missing ledger was found, and librarians discovered that Washington never returned the book.

Fast-forward to 2010, when an archivist discovers that Volume 12 of Commons Debates–the edition Washington checked out–was missing. They calculated the fine, and it was roughly $300,000. The archivist noted, “We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines. But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”

And, at long last on May 20, 2010, Mt. Vernon discovered The Law of Nations, and returned it to the New York Society Library. Commons Debate could not be located, so Mt. Vernon bought another copy for the library.

The executive director of Mt. Vernon noted:

 “We express our gratitude for your patience… and for your generosity in erasing the considerable funds that were probably owed by George Washington,”

Alas, the general “did not do his public duty.”

What a cool story.