Washington’s Rules

As a teenager, George Washington copied out “110 rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation,” probably as an exercise in penmanship. Samples:

  • “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”
  • “Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.”
  • “Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.”
  • “Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.”
  • “Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.”
  • “Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.”
  • “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

Washington didn’t compose these — they were originally devised by French Jesuits in 1595 — but both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin later wrote their own rules of good conduct.