The myth requires revision, but stolen library book is a fitting replacement for cut down cherry tree:
Librarians in New York’s oldest library have uncovered a surprising book thief: George Washington. The first president of the United States of America borrowed two books from the New York Society Library in 1789 but failed to return them.
Adjusted for inflation, he has since racked up $300,000 (£195,000) in fines for being some 220 years late. The New York Society Library says it will not pursue the fine. It would simply like the books back.
On 5 October 1789, the first president borrowed two books from what was then the only library in Manhattan – “Law of Nations,” a dissertation on international relations, and a volume of debate transcripts from Britain’s House of Commons.
George Washington did not even bother to sign his name in the borrower’s ledger. An aide simply scrawled “president” next to the title to show who had taken them out.
The two tomes were due back a month later but were never returned and have been accruing late fees ever since. Librarians uncovered the misdemeanour as they were digitising the library’s ledger from that time.
I’m guessing that “Law of Nations” must be Emer de Vattel’s 1758 text, although apparently Christian Wolff published a text of the same name. Vattel’s work was translated into English in 1760, which would render it accessible to Washington.