Americans are familiar with George Washington. He's known as the first president, as a general and military leader during the Revolutionary War, and his face still graces the dollar bill. Washington DC, the nation's capital, was chosen by Washington and named in his honor, although during his presidency the capital was first New York City, then Philadelphia.
In this month's historical presentation at the Neosho Newton County Library, however, Keith Zoromski, Crowder College, presented a program on Washington's 110 Rules of Civility that offer a different insight into the first American President.
Formally titled 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, the rules which guided Washington from an early age help historians today understand the man behind the image.
"George Washington is a man who needs no introduction," Zoromski said. "I don't have to tell you who George Washington is, first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen, the father of our country and on dollar bills. We know stories about him from his youngest age but do we know George Washington?"
To a crowd who gathered in the library's Community Room, Zoromski continued, "I'm not here to talk to you about George Washington the president. I'm not really here to talk about George Washington, commander of the Continental Army. I want to first think about George Washington, the twelve-year old boy."
According to Zoromski, who serves as both the department chair of the Social Science department at Crowder College and as a history instructor at the Neosho campus, the things that happened in our adolescent years create a foundation for who we become.
"The things that happened that shaped us into the person that we become, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse but we had experiences that explain why we do things the way we do now."
Washington's rules stem from an earlier source, well known in the era.
"George Washington, at 12 years old, took a book on civility that was written by Jesuit priests in 1595 and he copied it, all 110 rules."
Washington came from humble origins so the rules were important to him as his career advanced.
"He was a Virginia planter, that would be considered a common man," Zoromski said. "George Washington was definitely agriculturally based. He didn't have the college education of the Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary or the John Adams at Harvard. He had to, in many ways, educated himself. The only thing distinguishing him was his service in the French and Indian war."
Of the original 110 rules, Zoromski said that many don't apply in the 21st century.
"I've taken these and streamlined them down to about 30 that could still relate to modern day."
To illustrate his point, Zoromski handed out some of Washington's rules to those who attended, then he called for volunteers to read the rule aloud and interpret what it means today.
One of the rules is "Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust."
In simpler terms, not saying bad things about someone not present remains both wise and applicable today. Others include "do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle" and "in the presence of others sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet".
Zoromski drew the audience into participation, comparing it to how he teaches.
Toward the end of his presentation, he explained how when Washington took office, there was no plan on how to lead the nation.
"As first president, George Washington had nothing to go from," Zoromski said. "The constitution did not say how a president sets up the government and how Washington set it up carries over into today. We have a president figure that did not exist prior in world history."
Washington created his cabinet based on his general staff in the Continental Army. He also removed much of the pomp and circumstance originally planned for the office.
"In his time, in his place, applying these rules of civility, provides us with a picture of the man," Zoromski said. "We learn about him, what he did, instead of finding fault with what he didn't do. I'm not going to stand here and tell you George Washington was a perfect person.
Washington, however, was human.
"It's historiography, the history of history," Zoromski said in closing, leaving those who attended with a new perspective on George Washington, our nation's first president.
The full list of Washington's Rules of Civility can be found online as well as purchased in both eBook and paperback formats.
A history program is presented at 1 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in the Community Room at the Neosho Newton County Library. In April, the speaker will be local writer Judy Haas Smith who will present "The Haas Family History in Neosho". Although the focus is for adults, all ages are welcome to attend.
The Neosho Newton County Library is located at 201 West Spring Street.