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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rules of Civility

The first inklings of George Washington’s character are evident in the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, transcribed sometime before he was 16 (possibly from another source). According to Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington, the All Fairfax Reads selection, some of the rules seem quite hilarious centuries later: For example, no. 9 read: “Spit not into the fire … especially if there be meat before it” and no. 13 admonished: “Kill not vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others.”

But, the first of the rules may have guided Washington throughout his life: “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

According to Ellis, Washington had a “flair for disappearing within his public persona” and the more formal social mores of the late eighteenth century made such behavior easy.

For more on the social customs of Washington’s colonial world, try these books:

Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America by John Demos

Colonial Americans at Work by Herbert Applebaum

In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life by James Deetz

Here Lies Virginia: An Archeologist’s View of Colonial Life and History
by Ivor Noel Hume

As Various As Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth Century Americans by Stephanie Wolf

Everyday Life in Early America by David Hawke

So, do good manners and leadership go hand-in-hand? Let us know.

Also, here’s the answers to last week's quiz:

1. False
2. False
3. False
4. False
5. True
6. True

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