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May 23

George Washington is officially off the hook after a book he borrowed from a New York library 221 years ago was finally returned to its rightful place.

Staff at the New York Society Library happily accepted a replica copy of "The Law of Nations" from members of the first U.S. President's Mount Vernon estate yesterday after they discovered he removed it from their collection on Oct. 5, 1789, but never brought it back.

"I hereby absolve George Washington and his representatives for any overdue library fees incurred," said Charles Berry, the New York Society Library's chairman of the board of trustees, during a ceremony in the stately Members' Room.

"The library was not about to pursue a fine, but we were delighted to learn that a copy of this book was coming back to us."

News of Washington's absent-minded act went unnoticed until 1934, when a dog-eared ledger was found in the library's basement.Given the 221-year time lapse, he would have accrued an estimated inflation-adjusted $300,000 in late fees.

When Mount Vernon staff heard about the mishap, they immediately got to work finding another copy of the same edition, and found one online for about $12,000.

"We express our gratitude for your patience ... and for your generosity in erasing the considerable funds that were probably owed by George Washington," James Rees, executive director of Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, told library staff yesterday. "He did not do his public duty."

Report by BY Christina Boyle

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