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George Washington, the first President of the United States, was known to have studied a book called Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. This book was based on a set of rules compiled by French Jesuits in the 16th century and was a guide to proper behavior and etiquette. Washington was said to have copied these rules by hand as a young man, and they likely influenced his ideas about conduct, manners, and social interactions throughout his life.

I learned in Richard Brookhiser's biography of George Washington that he relied heavily on a 16th-century Jesuit text of manners. Washington transcribed the book as a teenager and kept it with him the rest of his life.

I like the first lesson the most:

"Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present."

When did Americans stop reading about manners? My parents encouraged me to read and encouraged me to develop manners, but it apparently never dawned on them to encourage me to read about manners. It also apparently never dawned on the parents of any of my friends . . . nor did it dawn on any of my Sunday School teachers, elementary school teachers, high school teachers, or college professors. Yet, based on what I read in Brookhiser, the study of manners was commonplace in the eighteenth century and in previous centuries.

Manners are an acknowledgment of the dignity that exists in each person as a creature made in God's image. In one sense, good manners are spiritual, albeit at the most mundane level. There's a lot of spiritual gold in that little Washington book, not to mention common sense. 

George Washington’s Rules of Civility
Through military campaigns, diplomatic ventures and presidential politics, George Washington was guided by a simple set of 110 maxims he first copied out as a Virginia schoolboy. In a newly published edition of the ‘Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,’ Washington biogra…