Washington and the cherry tree


The subject of a fanciful story by an early biographer of George Washington, Mason Weems; the source of the saying “I cannot tell a lie.” According to Weems, the young Washington received a new hatchet and used it to chop down his father's prized cherry tree. His father demanded to know how the tree had fallen. George was tempted to deny his misdeed, but then, “looking at his father with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, ‘I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.’”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.