George Washington’s Rules of Civility

Introduction

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 Rules of Civility from a French rulebook into 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:

  • Every Action done in Company ought to be with Some Sign of Respect to those that are Present.
  • In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
  • Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you
  • Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
  • When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.
  • Shift not yourself in Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
  • Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Publick Spectacle.
  • 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.
  • What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not before others.
  • Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise. Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

Procedure

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

Ask the students 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 the students rewrite some or all of the rules in their own words and discuss whether they can be used as class rules today.