A Presidents' Day Thought
As those of us who did not graduate recently know, George Washington was our first President. He was a farmer, surveyor, soldier, statesman, politician, and a great leader. But did you know he had a code of conduct that he followed his whole life?
John Adams, our second President, wrote in his letters about Washington, "He is polite with dignity, affable without formality, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good. These are traits in his character, which peculiarly fit him for the exalted station he holds, and God grant that he may hold it with the same applause and universal satisfaction for many, many years, as it is my firm opinion that no other man could rule over this great people and consolidate them into one mighty empire but he who is set over us."
His code of conduct, given to him as a child in elementary school as a tool for him to use to improve his penmanship, stayed with him his whole life. It was and is now known as "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in company and conversation".
There are 11O rules. Some are serious, some frivolous, some downright silly for us now. I will only share a few here:
1. Every action done in the company of others ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.
110. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
A few others:
108. When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence. Honor and obey your natural parents although they are poor.
2. When in the company of others, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.
6. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand. Speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.
12. Shake not the head, feet, or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry, not the mouth, and bedew no man's face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you speak.
13. Kill no vermin as fleas, lice, ticks in the sight of others, if you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it if it be upon the cloths of your companions. Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own cloths return thanks to him who put it off.
42. Let thy ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with whom thou converses for it is absurd to act the same with a clown and a Prince.
To read the whole 110 rules, search for "George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation". There are dozens of sites where the rules are available, some in the original English of the day. One other note: The punctuation and grammar in these typed rules are close to those written at the time of Washington. ·
Why one may ask, is it appropriate in these serious times to look at Washington's Rules of Civility, and not his accomplishments as a General, President, or farmer?
It seems to me that it is appropriate to consider our first President's Code of Conduct at a time when many of the current elected officials, especially the current administration, have none. No code of conduct, no core values, no respect for the people they serve or the laws and Constitution under which they serve. It may well be that his successes in life were due to his character and fidelity to the Constitution and to his God.
The second President celebrated today is, of course, Abraham Lincoln. Here are several quotes which illustrate the character of this great man:
• America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
• The best way to predict the future is to create it.
• You can fool some of the people all of the time, and some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
• You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by avoiding it today.
• The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.
• Government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
• A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Take a moment today, and appreciate the wisdom of two of our greatest Presidents, and two of the greatest men who ever lived.