George Washington Understood the Value of Good Manners

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A good moral character is the first essential. It is highly important not only to be learned but to be virtuous. ~George Washington

For past generations, as demonstrated by Washington and his contemporaries, character was important – and it did not mean self-expression. In those days, young people were not only expected to behave properly, but they understood the value of demonstrating general courtesies, manners and morals. George Washington’s first lessons in good breeding came from a book of precepts entitled Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, which listed 110 rules of etiquette for young men. The Rules of Civility were originally compiled and published in 1595 by French Jesuits. In 1645, this code of conduct was translated into an English version called Francis Hawkins’ Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men, and was reprinted at least eleven times until 1672.

One copy of this English translation came into Washington’s possession in 1744, when he was 12 years old. Sometime before he turned 16, Washington carefully hand-copied the rules into a notebook as an exercise in penmanship. At the same time, these rules taught him the proper behavior that we call etiquette including how to dress, walk, talk, and eat. They also conveyed a moral message of humility and paying attention to others. The teenage Washington took these rules to heart and they profoundly influenced the development of his character.

Maybe our world, as Robert Bork described, has slouched so far toward Gomorrah that a U.S.President understanding the value of demonstrating good manners is no longer possible. Obama is the worst offender of good manners, but unfortunately this offense occurs too frequently among the GOP candidates for president. Right up until yesterday evening Herman Cain had displayed good manners. Having his chief of staff, Mark Block, blame Rick Perry for leaking a story and demanding Perry apologize was a bad move. I watched it, and I thought the “Happy Warrior” just died.

I have my own personal preferences who I want to win the Republican nomination, and it has nothing to do with paying attention to any of the polls. I also can sort criteria in terms of core philosophy, and in terms of good manners. If you’re curious, then here is my list ordered by core philosophy:

  1. Rick Perry
  2. Herman Cain
  3. Michele Bachmann
  4. Rick Santorum
  5. Newt Gingrich
  6. Jon Huntsman
  7. Mitt Romney
  8. Ron Paul

Here is my list ordered by good manners:

  1. Newt Gingrich
  2. Jon Huntsman
  3. Herman Cain
  4. Mitt Romney
  5. Rick Perry
  6. Rick Santorum
  7. Michele Bachmann
  8. Ron Paul

Notice how different the lists are in rankings. I want the candidates to act like adults. The debate this Saturday between Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich may be my first opportunity to witness good manners and a real debate on the important issues. Both Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman give me heartburn over their flights of fancy with receiving favorable coverage from WaPo, NYT, ABC, CBS, and NBC. They also have flights of fancy with the 21st century alchemy of having an unlimited supply of “green energy.” Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry give me heartburn with their manners and temperament. I simply have so many trust issues with Romney that I don’t know where to start.

The bottom line for me is that if the slick Mitt wins this nomination, then I will cast my vote for him in the general election. At the precinct committee level the work continues to measure, recruit, and develop future candidates who understand the value of demonstrating good manners. I can never trust one candidate or one election to fix everything.

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Mike gamecock DeVine
Editor
November 3, 2011 2:02 pm

Great column Pil’, but news just broke that a distant cousin of Washington’s next-door neighbor has DNA evidence from the axe found near the felled-Cherry Tree matches the DNA on his wooden teeth…

Mike gamecock DeVine
Editor
November 3, 2011 2:09 pm

Seriously, one of your best. Love the Bork “Slouching”, but especially the book Washington et al deemed authoritative. Interesting on core philosophy. I would suggest that Ron Paul is a near orthodox libertarian. He has a core (can you believe that I’m using my time to discuss the one I used to refer to a The One Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered) much of which is great but his weak defense views disqualify him in my view. But he has a core. Cain has a great core, but he needs to fill in the details and take a crash… Read more »

vassarbushmills
Admin
November 3, 2011 4:26 pm

I have a couple of minor disagreements with you on the ordering of the list, Pilgrim, but the idea that anyone is talking about this at all is important.

This really should be a part of the entire presidential conversation, but it seems we’re the only ones. That means you must be right.

LadyImpactOhio
November 3, 2011 4:58 pm

We have to come to terms that there is no “perfect candidate.” Only relative perfectionism and imperfectionism.

Yes Pilgrim. I long for those days of a kinder, gentler nation where if we had beefs, at least we did it with civility.