Today being Election Day in Virginia, it's a fine time to recount how George Washington once purportedly got into a knockdown battle over an election for Alexandria's representation in the Virginia General Assembly. It supposedly happened in 1754.
A fascinating recent Penguin paperback, "Presidential Anecdotes," compiled by a Texas history professor, Paul F. Boller Jr., relates that Washington was a colonial colonel stationed with his men in Alexandria at the time.
According to a popular story, "Washington got into a heated argument with . . . a man named William Payne, [who] opposed the candidate supported by Washington . . . . In a fury, Payne knocked Washington to the ground. But when Washington's men came running up, determined to avenge their commander, Washington intervened and persuaded them to return peacefully to the barracks."
Next day, Washington sent for Payne and, instead of demanding a duel, offered his hand and a toast of wine. "Mr. Payne," Washington was quoted, "to err is nature; to rectify error is glory. I believe I was wrong yesterday."
There is a footnote to this recounting: Author John Corbin, in "The Unknown Washington," a book published in 1930, points out that "not all Washington biographers accept the story as authentic."
Good story, though -- better than the cherry tree fable.