George Washington’s Rules of Civility, Part 2

The Rules of Civility, Part 2

The Importance of Civility to George Washington was never more apparent than when a young George took much effort to memorize all 120 Rules for Civility valued at the time.  This article is Part 2 of a two part set.  In this part, the second 55 of the 110 Rules of Civility, which Washington valued so highly, are listed and are shown exactly as he wrote them as a teen.

Civic Virtue – Civility

The future first president of the United States thought civility, good manners and politeness were so important that he wrote out the Rules of Civility in his own hand and memorized them as a young teen.  At the age of 14 years old, young teens were expected to behave as adults and take on the responsibility of adults.  Washington believed that civic virtue and responsibility required the best behavior and integrity and took efforts toward those goals seriously.   Educated citizens knew that civic virtue and responsibility were also crucial aspects of liberty and a civilized nation, which added to his earnest desire to best know all of them.

Mount Vernon Org: Washington as youth

It becomes clear through their writings, including in these early glimpses of Washington, that civic virtue is of great importance to them and necessary to the freedom they cherished.  We can learn from them…

From the Jesuits in 1595

The Rules of Civility have their initial source from the French Jesuits, composed by them in 1595.   Washington is said to have first encountered them in a penmanship assignment from his schoolmaster.  The first English translation of these rules appeared in 1640 and the translation is attributed to Frances Hawkins.   Civility was considered to be, not only crucial to freedom, but also to the greatness of an adult and the sign of a man of civic virtue, which Washington aspired to be.

“Without realizing it, the Jesuits who wrote them, and the young man who copied them, were outlining and absorbing a system of courtesy appropriate to equals and near- equals. When the company for whom the decent behavior was to be performed expanded to the nation, Washington was ready. Parson Weems got this right, when he wrote that it was ‘no wonder every body honored him (Washington) who honored every body.”                        – Richard Brookhiser, author of his book on Washington, quoting Weems, Washington’s biographer

[Please note that Washington’s original spelling and language, as shown next, is in keeping for his time.  Also, some parts were not decipherable from his original text due to age of the text.  Explanations or researched fill-in words are provided, where necessary.]

George Washington’s Memorized Rules of Civility EXACTLY as he wrote them as a 14-year-old teen–the second 55 (numbers 56 through 110):

Rules of Civility, part 2

56th. ASSOCIATE yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

57th. IN walking up and Down in a House, only with One in Company if he be Greater than yourself, at the first give him the Right hand and Stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him, if he be a Man of Great Quality, walk not with him Cheek by Jowl but Somewhat behind him; but yet in Such a Manner that he may easily Speak to you.

58th. LET your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for ’tis a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: & in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern.

59th. NEVER express anything unbecoming, nor Act ag’tt [against] ye Rules of Moral before your inferiours.

60th. BE not immodest in urging your Friends to Discover a Secret.

61st. UTTER not base and frivilous things amongst grave and Learn’d Men nor very Difficult Questions or Subjects, among the Ignorant or things hard to be believed, Stuff not your Discourse with Sentences amongst your Betters nor Equals

62d. SPEAK not of doleful Things in a Time of Mirth or 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 Friend.

Be Not Boastful or Cruel

63d. A MAN ought not to value himself of his Atchievements or rare Qua . . . [qualities of wit, much less of his riches], Virtues or Kindred.

64th. BREAK not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all of without Occasion, deride no man’s Misfortune, tho’ there seem to be Some cause

65th. SPEAK not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion

Young Washington from National Archives

66th. BE not forward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute hear and answer & be not Pensive when it’s a time to converse.

Avoid Criticizing Others

67th. DETRACT not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.

68th. GO not thither, where you know not, whether you Shall be Welcome or not. Give not Advice without being Ask’d & when desired do it briefly

69th. IF two contend together take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your Opinion, in Things indiferent be of the Major side.

70th. REPREHEND not the imperfections of others for that belongs to Parents Masters and Superiours.

71st. 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

Common Courtesy

72d. SPEAK not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as ye Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously.

73d. THINK before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly and Distinctly

74th. WHEN Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended

75th. IN the midst of Discourse ask . . . [not of what one treateth] . . . but if you Perceive any Stop because of . . . [your coming you may well entreat him gently] . . . to Proceed: IF a Person of Quality comes in while your Conversing it’s handsome to Repeat what was said before

76th. WHILE you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face

Be Polite

77th. TREAT with men at fit Times about Business & Whisper not in the Company of Others

78th. MAKE no Comparisons and if any of the Company be Commended for any brave act of Virtue, commend not another for the Same

79th. 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.

80th. BE not Tedious in Discourse or in reading unless you find the Company pleased therewith

81st. BE not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach to those that Speak in Private

Integrity ~ Always

82d. UNDERTAKE not what you cannot Perform but be Carefull to keep your Promise

83d. WHEN you deliver a matter do it without Passion & with Discretion, however mean ye. Person be you do it too

84th. WHEN your Superiours talk to any Body hearken not neither Speak nor Laugh

85th. IN Company of these of Higher Quality than yourself Speak not till you are ask’d a Question then Stand upright put of your Hat & Answer in few words

86th. IN Disputes, be not so Desirous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to ye. Judgment of ye. Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.

87th. . . . [Let they carriage be such] . . . as becomes a Man Grave …. Settled and attentive . . . [to that, which is spoken. Do not contra-] . . . dict not at every Turn what others Say

Honor, Respect for Others

88th. BE not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse

89th. Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust

90th. BEING Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it

Good Manners

Mount Vernon Org: Washington at a young age, in counsel with his mother

91st. MAKE no Shew of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on the Table neither find fault with what you Eat

92d. TAKE no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.

93d. ENTERTAINING anyone at table it is decent to present him wt. meat, Undertake not to help others undesired by ye. Master

94th. IF you Soak bread in the Sauce let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till Cools of it Self

95th. PUT not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand neither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pye upon a Dish nor cast anything under the table

96th. IT’S unbecoming to Stoop much to ones Meat Keep your Fingers clean & when foul wipe them on a Comer [correction: corner] of your Table Napkin

97th. PUT not another bit into your Mouth til the former be Swallowed let not your Morsels be too big for the jowls

Including Table Manners

98th. DRINK not nor talk with your mouth full neither Gaze about you while you are a Drinking

99th. DRINK not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after Drinking wipe your Lips breath not then or Ever with too Great a Noise, for its uncivil

100th. CLEANSE not your teeth with the Table Cloth Napkin Fork or Knife but if Others do it let it be done wt. a Pick Tooth r [correction: without a peep to them].

101st. RINCE not your Mouth in the Presence of Others

102d. IT is out of use to call upon the Company often to Eat nor need you Drink to others every Time you Drink

103d. IN Company of your Betters be not . . . [longer in eating] . . . than they are; lay not your Arm but ar . . . [only your hand upon the table].

104th. IT belongs to ye Chiefest in Company to unfold his Napkin and fall to Meat first, But he ought then to Begin in time & to Dispatch with Dexterity that ye. Slowest may have time allowed him


105th. BE not Angry at Table whatever happens & if you have reason to be so, Shew it not but on a Chearfull Countenance especially if there be Strangers for good Humour makes one Dish of Meat a Feast

106th. SET not yourself at ye. upper . . . [table]. . . of ye. Table but if it be your Due or that ye. Master of ye. house will have it so, Contend not least you Should Trouble ye. company.

107th. IF others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth


108th. WHEN you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously & . . .[with] . . . Reverence. Honour & obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor

109th. LET your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.

110th. LABOUR to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience.

Civic Virtue

With this look at the coming of age of George Washington, we can see the value he (along with our other Founders) placed upon civic virtue and civility.

Washington’s use of these Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior formed his character and guided him as an adult.  These rules were so significant in his life that countless copies of his rules have been published in books in America and abroad.  Many believe Washington wrote the Rules, though he never claimed this and his writings credited Frances Hawkins and the French Jesuits, who first wrote them.

In his strict adherence to these rules, Washington set forth an example for all who followed him.  Our Founders considered Civic Virtue to be the most important attribute for any political candidate, along with education and experience.   Washington set a standard our Founders intended for us to follow.

Two of the many books available:





Margo Louis
About Margo Louis 8 Articles
Margo Louis has been writing on newspapers since she was a teen and continued writing through college and her career, leaning toward technical writing in more recent years. She is pleased to be a part of The Founding Project and its support of civics education. When not working or writing, Margo enjoys cooking, travel, perusing antiques and especially loves spending time with her children and family.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.