George Washington’s Rules Of Civility

How can we open the conversation and come to some agreement about courtesy, civility and manners?

General George Washington Resigning His Commission, by artist John Trumbull, 1817. Public Domain.

When George Washington was a teenager, he wanted to make a good impression on his elders. Good manners were important to him. He made sure that he knew how by copying Rules of Civility from a French rulebook in his own handwriting. Rules of Civility was a list of 110 rules for people to follow. These rules dealt with different situations, such as how to be respectful to people, how to be polite when dining with others, and how to behave. Here are ten of the rules:

1. Every Action done in Company ought to be with Some Sign of Respect to those that are Present.

2. In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

3. Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

4. When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.

5. Shift not yourself in Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.

6. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Publick Spectacle.

7. Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of Others and ask not how they came.

8. What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not before others.

9. Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.

10. Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

Families or classrooms can open discussions about these rules. Examine the rules with your children or students. You might have them act the rules out so they understand their meaning. You can point out how language was used at that time including capital letters, spelling, and punctuation.

Ask children if they have rules like this in their homes or at school. Ask which of these rules they consider the most important. Discuss what these rules tell us about George Washington. Have them rewrite some or all of the rules in their own words and discuss whether they can be used as class or home rules today.

This activity comes directly from the George Washington’s Mount Vernon website. The site has a wealth of information including primary sources, lesson plans, videos, online learning, virtual tours and more. We appreciate the opportunity to reprint it in its entirety.

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