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Book Review: George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation 

His face was commanding, his eyes were kind, his gestures and words simple; and above all, a calm and firm behavior harmonized all these qualities.

About George Washington

I have never seen anyone who was more naturally and spontaneously polite

If you’re gearing up for Independence Day, you must recall the year 1776. Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress declaring that the thirteen American colonies are a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire.

As commander in chief of the Continental Army during the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was called a born leader. His “face was commanding, his eyes were kind, his gestures and words simple; and above all, a calm and firm behavior harmonized all these qualities.”

That behavior, that synergy of patriotism and virtue, modesty and self-restraint made Washington an impressive man, that even his “faults transformed to virtues.” His height was a commanding 6’3” to go well with his high ranking official stature, but only after growing his character through his study of Francis Hawkins book of etiquette, Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men (public library) are we able to realize the origins of his precociousness. This code of conduct spawned an interest in manners for the young Washington—who at the age of 16 ended his schooling short in order to support his widowed mother and four younger siblings. What a testament to precociousness, to study the subject of etiquette so earnestly that he penned his code of conduct in reverence to grace, a preoccupation with good behavior which eventually is found in George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation (public library).

At the age of 17 Washington, became greatly favored by the aristocratic family of Lord Fairfax of Virginia and was thus appointed as a surveyor of his property. His mingling with the higher echelons of society and politics, visitors to the Greenway Court of Lord Fairfax, was a contrast to the environment he was accustomed to at home with his mother. At Greenway Court, Washington was polishing his social behaviour. Before turning 16 years old, twenty-eight years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington wrote 110 rules that today may seem charming, yet quaint, his boyish writing style and misspellings apparent yet common in the 18th century. His first ten rules are a demonstration of the awkward phrasing of a boy’s ambition and determination to mature into manhood:

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

When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered.

Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.

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

If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.

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

Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.

At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.

Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.

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



Washington’s rules are in the public domain and are available in a special edition published by The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The edition has a comprehensive introduction by Letitia Baldrige, an expert in presidential etiquette. Add this memorable historical masterpiece to your permanent bookshelf. It is sure to add value to your reading repertoire. Pair it up with Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington. It is sure to delight your young reader with its fine prose and striking illustrations.


George Washington's synergy of patriotism and virtue, modesty and self-restraint made him an impressive man, that even his faults transformed to virtues.

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Blog Comments

This is brilliant. Something i didn’t know about before; do you have other posts similar to this?

Thank you for stopping by, Benjamin. I have several book reviews here: https://erortega.com/category/reading/book-review/

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