Washington's Rules of Civility
In the late
nineteenth century, a school notebook entitled "Forms of
Writing" was discovered at Mount Vernon, Virginia,
George Washington's plantation home on the Potomac
River. The notebook apparently dates from about 1745,
when George was fourteen years old and attending school
in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Inside, in George's own
handwriting, we find the foundation of a solid character
education for an eighteenth-century youth: some 110
"Rules of Civility in Conversation Amongst Men."
Historical research has shown that young George probably
copied them from a 1664 English translation of an even
older French work. Most of the rules are still
delightfully applicable as a modern code of personal
conduct. On the assumption that what was good enough for
the first president of the United States is good enough
for the rest of us, here are fifty-four of George
Washington's "Rules of Civility."
1. Every action
in company ought to be with some sign of respect to
2. In the presence of others sing not to yourself with a
humming voice, nor drum with your fingers or feet.
3. Speak not when others speak, sit not when others
stand, and walk not when others stop.
4. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking;
jog not the table or desk on which another reads or
writes; lean not on anyone.
5. Be no flatterer, neither play with anyone that
delights not to be played with.
6. Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but
when there is a necessity for doing it, you must ask
leave. Come not near the books or writings of anyone so
as to read them unasked; also look not nigh when another
is writing a letter.
7. Let your countenance be pleasant, but in serious
matters somewhat grave.
8. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another,
though he were your enemy.
9. They that are in dignity or office have in all places
precedency, but whilst they are young, they ought to
respect those that are their equals in birth or other
qualities, though they have no public charge.
10. It is good manners to prefer them to whom we speak
before ourselves, especially if they be above us, with
whom in no sort we ought to begin.
11. Let your discourse with men of business be short and
12. In visiting the sick do not presently play the
physician if you be not knowing therein.
13. In writing or speaking give to every person his due
title according to his degree and the custom of the
14. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but
always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
15. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art he
himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.
16. When a man does all he can, though it succeeds not
well, blame not him that did it.
17. Being to advise or reprehend anyone, consider
whether it ought to be in public or in private,
presently or at some other time, also in what terms to
do it; and in reproving show no signs of choler, but do
it with sweetness and mildness.
18. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance; break
no jests that are sharp or biting; and if you deliver
anything witty or pleasant, abstain from laughing
19. Wherein you reprove another be unblamable yourself,
for example is more prevalent than precept.
20. Use no reproachful language against anyone, neither
curses nor revilings.
21. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the
disparagement of anyone.
22. In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to
accommodate nature rather than procure admiration. Keep
to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and
orderly with respect to time and place.
23. Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you
to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if
your stockings set neatly and clothes handsomely.
24. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you
esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone
than in bad company.
25. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for
it is a sign of tractable and commendable nature; and in
all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
26. Be not immodest in urging your friend to discover a
27. Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grown
and learned men, nor very difficult questions or
subjects amongst the ignorant, nor things hard to be
28. Speak not of doleful things in time of mirth nor at
the table; speak not of melancholy things, as death and
wounds; and if others mention them, change, if you can,
the discourse. Tell not your dreams but to your intimate
29. Break not a jest when none take pleasure in mirth.
Laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion. Deride no
man's misfortunes, though there seem to be some cause.
30. Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or
earnest. Scoff at none, although they give occasion.
31. Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the
first to salute, hear and answer, and be not pensive
when it is time to converse.
32. Detract not from others, but neither be excessive in
33. Go not thither where you know not whether you shall
be welcome or not. Give not advice without being asked;
and when desired, do it briefly.
34. If two contend together, take not the part of either
unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your opinion; in
things indifferent be of the major side.
35. Reprehend not the imperfection of others, for that
belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.
36. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others, and
ask not how they came. What you may speak in secret to
your friend deliver not before others.
37. Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in
your own language; and that as those of quality do, and
not as the vulgar. Sublime matters treat seriously.
38. Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly,
nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and
39. When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and
disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words,
help him not, nor prompt him without being desired;
interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be
40. Treat with men at fit times about business, and
whisper not in the company of others.
41. Make no comparisons; and if any of the company be
commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not
another for the same.
42. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth
thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard, name
not your author always. A secret discover not.
43. Be not curious to know the affairs of others,
neither approach to those that speak in private.
44. Undertake not what you cannot perform; but be
careful to keep your promise.
45. When you deliver a matter, do it without passion and
indiscretion, however mean the person may be you do it
46. When your superiors talk to anybody, hear them;
neither speak or laugh.
47. In disputes be not so desirous to overcome as not to
give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion, and
submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if
they are judges of the dispute.
48. Be not tedious in discourse, make not many
digressions, nor repeat often the same matter of
49. Speak no evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
50. Be not angry at table, whatever happens; and if you
have reason to be so show it not; put on a cheerful
countenance, especially if there be strangers, for good
humor makes one dish a feast.
51. Set not yourself at the upper end of the table; but
if it be your due, or the master of the house will have
it so, contend not, lest you should trouble the company.
52. When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be
seriously, in reverence and honor, and obey your natural
53. Let your recreations be manful, not sinful.
54. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark
of celestial fire called conscience.
This "want ad"
appeared in the early part of this century.
Wanted -- A boy
that stands straight, sits straight, acts straight, and
A boy whose
fingernails are not in mourning, whose ears are clean,
whose shoes are polished, whose clothes are brushed,
whose hair is combed, and whose teeth are well cared
A boy who
listens carefully when he is spoken to, who asks
questions when he does not understand, and does not ask
questions about things that are none of his business;
A boy that moves
quickly and makes as little noise about it as possible;
A boy who
whistles in the street, but does not whistle where he
ought to keep still;
A boy who looks
cheerful, has a ready smile for everybody, and never
A boy who is
polite to every man and respectful to every woman and
A boy who does
not smoke cigarettes and has no desire to learn how;
A boy who is
more eager to know how to speak good English than to
A boy that never
bullies other boys nor allows other boys to bully him;
A boy who, when
he does not know a thing, says, "I don't know," and when
he has made a mistake says, "I'm sorry," and when he is
asked to do a thing says, "I'll try";
A boy who looks
you right in the eye and tells the truth every time;
A boy who is
eager to read good books;
A boy who would
rather put in his spare time at the YMCA gymnasium than
to gamble for pennies in a back room;
A boy who does
not want to be "smart" nor in any wise to attract
A boy who would
rather lose his job or be expelled from school than to
tell a lie or be a cad;
A boy whom other
A boy who is at
ease in the company of girls;
A boy who is not
sorry for himself, and not forever thinking and talking
A boy who is
friendly with his mother, and more intimate with her
than anyone else;
A boy who makes
you feel good when he is around;
A boy who is not
goody-goody, a prig, or a little pharisee, but just
healthy, happy, and full of life.
This boy is
wanted everywhere. The family wants him, the school
wants him, the office wants him, the boys want him, the
girls want him, all creation wants him.
What a Godly Man Should
"I would use these
words to describe this wonderful man of virtue....
courageous, fun, true, wise, loyal, passionate, protector,
gentle, humble, strong, self-sacrificial, adventurous, patient,
loving, kind, serving, intelligent, polite, family centered,
lover of truth, steeped in the Word of God, prayerful and
These are not the kind
of guys that you always notice first in a crowd. But they are
the ones that you admire most once you do notice them. They are
the ones who go to the person sitting on the side of the church
looking left out, and shake hands with a smile. They are the
ones that you will find at home instead of in youth group. You
will see them sitting with their folks rather than passing notes
in the back of church with their friends. You will find them
helping in the kitchen or taking out the trash, walking the
ladies to their cars and carrying diaper bags even if they don't
belong to them.
You'll find them with
other guys, in deep discussions about theology, worldview
philosophies, politics, and books rather than just talking about
the latest football games, computer games and girls. Yet, they
can converse on these topics too when needed :- ) . These are
the guys who walk on the outside of the sidewalk to protect the
lady whom they might be with, and are always watching for ways
to take care of her as a sister. When looking for a mate, they
want the one who is at home (or wants to be) and "hangs out"
with her mom and siblings more than her buddies.
They love a good time,
but it usually entails sword fighting, ultimate Frisbee, board
games, hiking, touch football, night tag, water balloon
fights and G rated movies rather than sports teams, dancing at
the bar or movies with violence and sex-who cares if they are in
their 20's! A big night on the town includes taking the siblings
to the grocery store, the library or out for miniature golf.
They are passionate about the things of God and they do not bend
on their convictions, no matter what others may say or do. They
don't care that some might see them as "goody-goody" or strange
for not dating or for spending so much time with their
family-they are proud of it!
You might see them on
the road at 6:30am rushing to get to a 7:00am catechism class,
even though no one is making him go. You will find them in
family worship, singing or playing the piano, teaching God's
word to his family or sitting at his fathers feet. They write
marvelous heart felt letters of encouragement when needed and
yet might not say too much by way of personal stuff to many.
They keep confidences. You might easily see him with a crowd of
little ones about him as he helps to teach them something or
play with them. He will watch an old movie and play cards with
his siblings or parents ,even when he would rather be playing
"Stronghold Crusader" on his laptop.
He would give up his
very life for his savior, his ideals and his family. He makes
ice cream floats of all kinds-even strange concoctions- and
gives his mom tea in bed. He bakes birthday cakes for his
friends with his sister's recipes. He learns follow a recipe and
make things in the crock-pot because he wants to be able to at
least take care of his wife when the baby comes. You are likely
to find him under a car, on top of a roof, mowing a lawn,
mending the fence, writing a book, working the night shift to
help the family-anywhere that will require hard work, initiative
and drive-but not for his own sake.
They are so admired
and dearly loved by their families because they are an
indispensable source of joy and encouragement, strength of
character and servitude. They are never truly independent,
because they have come to that wonderful place in the Christian
life where they realize, that they must be dependent on God
alone in His sovereignty, and the people that He has placed in
Therefore, he is a
true man's man. A giant. One to look up to. A hero. A leader
among his peers. Strong, steady, dependable and one that you
could place your life and the lives of your children into his
capable and loving hands-with no regrets or fears."
Kathy Gruben 2006