Posted by: Democratic Thinker | February 20, 2010

Weekly Story: I Cannot Tell a Lie

Weekly Story

An elderly friend and relative of the Washington’s relates a family story to Mason L. Weems.

George Washington and the Cherry Tree.


The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last.

George is questioned.

WHEN George, said she, was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping every thing that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it.

The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him any thing about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance.

George,” said his father,” do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?”

This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”—Run to my arms, you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

—M.L. Weems, The Life of George Washington.

Most people accept the story of this trait of Washington’s at its face value, though, of course, there have never been lacking iconoclasts ready to assert that the cherry tree has no basis in fact. There are always people who doubt.
—John A. Ferrall.

There are croakers in every country—Benjamin Franklin.