A Requiem for Manners

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee met General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia, for the purpose of surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had asked for the meeting and had prepared by putting on his finest uniform: a new, long dress coat with a high collar buttoned to the top, a bejeweled long sword at his side, a pair of high-topped boots with spurs. Grant appeared in his typical attire, the simple uniform of a common soldier: a short coat and plain, spur-less boots, both much spattered with mud.

The contrast in attire matched the contrast in the men themselves: Lee was tall, straight in his bearing and solemn in his manner; the silvery-white hair and beard that ringed his visage befitted a king. The younger Grant was four inches shorter, somewhat stoop-shouldered, with a close-cropped brown beard. He was clearly ill at ease in the presence of Lee and nervously attempted some small talk. Grant offered that he still remembered Lee well from their one meeting during the Mexican War, almost two decades earlier. Lee confessed he could not recall anything about the occasion. Hearing Lee’s response must have been an awkward moment for Grant.

This climactic scene of the American Civil War has often been cited as emblematic of a watershed moment in history, the allegorical surrender of the Old World with its regal personalities, chivalric bonds, and inherited wealth to the New World embodied by Grant, a man of humble origins who had failed repeatedly in business and who finally made himself by making war (albeit with overwhelming advantages of men and materiel on his side). And it was indeed this.

But it was more. Less often noted is Grant’s careless disrespect to Lee in failing to dress properly for this meeting. Excuses have been made that Grant hurried to the meeting preoccupied with its impending business, that he was suffering from a days-long headache that morning and that consequently such “trivialities” as proper dress were the furthest thing from his mind. Grant’s admirers even point to his crude attire as a badge of honor: Here was the real rough-and-tumble American of the frontier, the true democrat, whose worth was to be found in his inner fortitude, his stick-to-it-tiveness, and not in the superficiality of his dress, the foppish concerns of an effete and decaying era.

But appearances do matter. As a student, the young George Washington once performed a copy exercise, titled “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation,” based on a 16th-century Jesuit text. At the top of this list of 110 rules was this guiding admonition: “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” This maxim had presided over Western culture since the Middle Ages, and it was exemplified in the courtly manners of the upper classes everywhere and at all times, from the knights of the Frankish kingdom to the nobles of the Elizabethan Age to the American Southern aristocratic class represented by Washington and Lee. Where the upper classes led, the lower classes followed. Manners trickled down, so that even the common laborer of nineteenth-century London attempted, when wearing his Sunday best, to emulate the attire of his betters. His top hat and waistcoat may have been worn and of inferior quality, but he wore them proudly nonetheless.

Today the idea that the cultivation of manners should be an essential part of one’s education has been nearly lost entirely. It seems to have followed in death its greatest modern advocate, Emily Post. “Manner is personality, Post wrote, “the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.”  Proof of the demise of manners is all around us: the open use of foul language on the public street, not simply by unkempt, uneducated youths but by middle-age, well-groomed businessmen; the in-your-ear blaring of something incorrectly deemed to be music by its devotees out car windows;  the making of turns or changing of lanes by drivers without the courtesy of a turn signal; the routine violation of one’s personal space by passersby without the least expression of apology; and most obvious and appalling, the horrific decline in standards of dress everywhere. Indeed, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers have become standard attire for adults on “casual Friday” in the business world and, even more distressingly, at Sunday Mass. People venture out of their houses into public wearing their pajamas as they perform Saturday-morning errands. Today it is the lowest class of society that sets the standards of attire for everyone else; young people have adopted an exaggerated version of prison uniforms as their everyday attire, particularly excessively baggy pants, often worn so low that underpants and even one’s derriere is exposed for all to see.

The mannered society began its death throes in America in the 1960s.  It was dealt its first lethal blow by the radical cultural and political Left, who preached that business suits, proper manners, and personal grooming were symbols of the oppression of the bourgeois middle class, of “The Man.” Sporting instead tie-dyed shirts, ripped-up jeans, flip-flops and scraggly, unkempt hair upon the head and face, the Left taught, was the way to bring about the egalitarian revolution that would right society’s injustices.

What was started by the Left of the political spectrum five decades ago was exacerbated by the Right years later. Largely in response to the chilling forms of  what came to be called “political correctness” that were imposed by radicals on college campuses, right-wing libertarians beginning in the 1990s adopted the mantra that no one has a right not to be offended. In a decisive transformation of the old libertarian adage that one’s right to swing one’s fist stops only at someone else’s nose, these new libertarians claimed that their right to free speech was completely unrestricted by anyone’s religious sensibilities or sense of proper decorum. Thus pornography, outrageous satire of religious belief, and foul language were acceptable in the public square. If one was offended by such things, these libertarians preached, that was the problem of the offended person, not the offender. In effect, libertarians claimed that their right to spew forth whatever they wanted through the written and spoken word was not limited by another’s eye or ear. They said to the offended: Get over it!

Thus the enemies of manners on both Left and Right together constituted modern-day Jacobins, determined not simply to bring down an unjust system of government but to obliterate the very fabric of society by destroying all standards of decorum. This parallel with the French Revolution brings us to the thinking of the great Anglo-Irish statesmen Edmund Burke, who believed that the Jacobins of France were, above all else, launching an assault on “manners.” Now by “manners” Burke meant something broader than what we mean today, something akin to custom. To Burke, custom was nearly synonymous with civilization itself. “Manners are of more importance than laws,” Burke wrote. “Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe.”

Manners and civilization itself, Burke held, depended on two things: religion and “the spirit of gentleman.” Robert E. Lee believed this also. As president of Washington College in the years after Appomattox he had reduced the rules of the school to one sentence: “Every student must be gentleman.” To Lee and Burke, a gentleman was one who displayed Christian virtue as embodied in the medieval code of chivalry, an elaborate system of proper behavior towards others—manners in the narrower sense of the word.

The quality of Christian humility lay at the root of chivalry. A chivalrous knight (the term chivalry comes from the old French word, chevalier, meaning “horseman”) humbled himself to all others in society. Thus he was bound by duties not only to his lord, his superior, but to those weaker than himself, particularly women, whose innocent virtue he was tasked to protect, and the poor, whose pathetic condition he was obliged to alleviate. One thinks of St. Martin of Tours, who famously cut off half of his military cloak to provide a naked man with clothing. To adopt a philosophy of individualism in which one rejected concern for others would have been unimaginable to the Christian knight.

One must keep in mind how unique this Christian notion of humility, and its related idea of chivalry, have been in world history. In the ancient pagan world for example, humility was considered a sign of weakness. Too, in many non-Christian modern societies, superiors are expected to be rude to inferiors, a way of keeping everyone in his proper place in society. The mighty in most places and times have boldly asserted their power as a way to maintain the status quo.

But Christian chivalry, Burke believed, “made power gentle” and served to “beautify and soften private society.” It harmonized human relations. Without it, society could only be held together by brute force and cold reason. Gone would be the warmth of considerate human relations, corrupted would be the morals of men, and all would be reduced to slaves.

It is, of course, impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when the decline of chivalry and manners in the West began. Burke certainly saw the process well underway in Europe by the time of the French Revolution. “The age of chivalry is gone,” Burke wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. “That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.” Perhaps in America the precipitous decline of manners began somewhat later, in a humble home in south-central Virginia, when the Last Cavalier of the Old World laid down his sword in defeat, giving way to the New World Order of centralized government, crony capitalism, and the narcissistic New Man, whose main concern was to be profit and personal happiness, not piety and humble concern for others.

Stephen M. Klugewicz


Dr. Stephen M. Klugewicz is headmaster of Regina Luminis Academy, a private, Catholic, classical school in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Klugewicz earned his B.A. in history at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in American history at the University of Alabama, Tusacloosa. He has served as director of education at the National Constitution Center and at the Bill of Rights Institute and has also been the executive director of the Collegiate Network, the Robert and Marie Hansen Foundation, and Generation Life.

  • Harry_piper

     Did Lee’s wonderful chivalry extend to black people? Did the Last Cavalier ever think, “Hey! Maybe fighting a horrifically bloody war in order to keep human beings as property isn’t a very good thing to do?” Did his “piety and humble concern for others” ever come across that line of thinking?”
     But hey, at least he dressed properly for his meeting with Grant. Grant, that scoundrel who couldn’t even be bothered to dress up like a peacock, whose behavior apparently helped set the standard for the downfall of chivalry.
     So let’s raise a toast to a group of people who exemplified good manners, and completely ignore how utterly ridiculous it is to uphold men who defended slavery as paragons of virtue. 
     Owning a black person as property, but jeans at Mass (the horror!) are something else entirely.

    • aenid

      Here’s little history you may not have read: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/jarvis10.html

      The point of this piece went completely over your head, apparently. It is about the disrespect for one’s fellow human beings which is inherent in today’s rampant lack of civility in dress, good manners etc. If you love all this , then it is truly a wonderful time for you and the likeminded to be alive and visiting your local shops in your pjs without the slavery of regular facecloth or toothbrush use being imposed upon you by a cruel world.

      • Harry_piper

         If you want to defend good manners, please do so. 
        Don’t, however, expect me to sympathise with your argument if you use as your model a man who fought for a nation who considered slavery a right, and in the process attack a general who believed the exact opposite for not wearing the correct dress.
        Oh, Lee freed slaves privately. Great. The South didn’t, and don’t send me any nonsense that attempts to paint the war as a Honourable Struggle Against the Damn Yankees- that’s revisionist rubbish at it’s worse.
         If you want to whine about dress issues that irk you, please choose any other example that doesn’t downplay slavery in order to get a point across.

        • aenid

          Like I said before, this article is not about the evils of slavery or the various causes of  that Civil War, one of which being the abolition of slavery. It is (once again) about the respect and regard for fellow human beings shown in the way one dresses and acts toward others. I do admit though it’s great fun to get indignant , righteous and flushed over an issue that was settled many generations ago and costs one nothing. And it is also rather blissful to feel so very superior when judging our forefathers according to the high standards our society possesses today. With all that passion for the subject I feel quite sure you are doing everything in your power to end modern slavery in Africa et al – a good thing to know for those of us who are more concerned about it than that which no longers exists.

          Of course you have a perfect right to prefer the dishelved, unbathed Grant who was known in his day to frequently toss back more than a few! But if you ever get stuck next to a vomit- flecked sot sleeping off a bender on the train for any considerable time , perhaps you will understand more the practical point of the manners and gentlemanly behaviour that General Lee was known for, if not the animus that inspired it.

          • Yankee

            Grant had horrible migraines and people often mistook him for drunk.  So we can not speak out against the evils of chattel slavery if we aren’t personally fighting slavery in Africa?  Lee was a great man, but he was on the wrong side of history and a nicely pressed uniform doesn’t change that.  I have no idea what Grant’s height has to do with anything, simply a dig by the author at him.  He was very respectful of Lee.  St. Francis of Assisi literally wore rags sown together, I guess we can blame the decline of manners on him.  If I understand correctly Grant even bowed to the officers.  So the man defending slavery(even though we are told he was against it) dressed better, what does that prove?  The South is still trying to pretend they had the high moral ground.

        • Yankee

          Don’t believe it!  Lee gave up his slaves ebcause he was legally bound to free them.
          http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/03/robert-e-lee-owned-slaves-and-defended-slavery/ it’s true that Lee did not own any slaves during most of the Civil War—and part of it is, frankly, dishonest fudging—Lee’s sixty-three slaves were, in spite of being legally under his control and forced to work on his plantation, not held u…nder his own name, but rather temporarily under his control as an inheritance from his father-in-law, G.W.P. Custis. Other Lee cheerleaders recognize that Lee did own slaves, but give him props for manumitting them. What they leave out of the record is that Custis’s will legally required Lee to emancipate the slaves that passed into his control within five years of Custis’s death. Custis died October 10, 1857 and his will was probated December 7, 1857 (about a year after Lee wrote his letter on slavery); Lee kept the slaves as long as he could, and finally filed the deed of manumission with Court of the City of Richmond on December 29, 1862—five years, two months, and nineteen days after Custis’s death.
          it’s true that Lee did not own any slaves during most of the Civil War—and part of it is, frankly, dishonest fudging—Lee’s sixty-three slaves were, in spite of being legally under his control and forced to work on his plantation, not held u…nder his own name, but rather temporarily under his control as an inheritance from his father-in-law, G.W.P. Custis. Other Lee cheerleaders recognize that Lee did own slaves, but give him props for manumitting them. What they leave out of the record is that Custis’s will legally required Lee to emancipate the slaves that passed into his control within five years of Custis’s death. Custis died October 10, 1857 and his will was probated December 7, 1857 (about a year after Lee wrote his letter on slavery); Lee kept the slaves as long as he could, and finally filed the deed of manumission with Court of the City of Richmond on December 29, 1862—five years, two months, and nineteen days after Custis’s death.

      • Dang Yank

        To connect these two events is absurd.  And so what if things appear nice on the outside if underneath they are rotten corpses?  These men were in the throes of serious battle.  How nice that Lee presented himself, the loser, with fine clothes.  Forget that he betrayed his country or defended a “new country” founded upon the slavery(please see the CSA Constitution)- he *looked* like a gentleman and that’s all that matters, right?
        All the people on here who take umbrage at slavery being brought up are only upset because it causes this silly article to unravel when we judge the interior of the man.  Oh if only the likes of the Cobb Plantation were still around!  Slaves being beaten and raped but at least the men tipped their hats to ladies and wore fine threads- Western Civilization would have been saved.
        Grant was a humble and low key man.  When he met Lincoln at a party he was in the room a long time before Lincoln even knew it.  That’s the kind of man he was.  Give me that any day over a nice suit.  

    • Bmarrs

       You should read the “Politically Incorrect” about the Civil War.  It covers the personal character of the north and south generals.  I have a new found respect for the southern generals.  Some of the northern generals — not so much.

    • aearon43

      I agree with the general thrust of this article, but I also think Lee was an unfortunate choice of role model. How about a saint instead? 

    • sunshineIQ

      Slavery was part of pervasive economic system. Did you ever wonder:
      If George Washington went out and purchased open land to start a plantation,
      where would he find workers? At that time folks either had small businesses or
      worked on their own farms. It was more an agrarian society. Industrialization
      hadn’t taken place yet. People couldn’t move easily and quickly from place to
      place. There were no people looking for jobs as such. The system was what it was. George
      Washington was a gentleman caring about his slaves as his people according to
      a scholastic version of a diary by his wife Martha Washington. You and I know
      you would not work very well for a master who didn’t treat you well. Good
      treatment of his slaves enabled his plantation to grow and he shared his wealth
      with his people by taking care of them and ultimately giving them their freedom when he died. Some of his people were invited to his supper table. Surely not everyone on the plantation was there. But they were cared for. The fact is that slavery existed as part of the economic system and for the most part it doesn’t exist today. But some in our government today are making economic changes that will create a class of people who will need to be cared for. Are those in power putting us all on a millennial plantation? God forbid.

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  • CD

    Is it possible to discuss anything about 19th century America NOT in the context of slavery?  Or is that the only proper and acceptable context for any discussion about any topic?

    I thought the author’s larger point was very interesting (although I am a Yankee).

  • Jason

    Incredible!  Great article!

  • Rouxfus

    “To Lee and Burke, a gentleman was one who displayed Christian virtue as embodied in the medieval code of chivalry, an elaborate system of proper behavior towards others—manners in the narrower sense of the word.”

    John Walter Weyland expressed this code ia poem, “The True Gentleman” which has served as a credo for an American college Greek fraternity since its founding in 1859. As a pledget to that fraternity, we were required to memorize that poem, and be able to recite it upon demand before a paper match struck by the active member (we were also required to carry a book of matches on our person) burned his fingers. It is a good code, an essentially Christian code of conduct, but I reckon is now more followed inht e breach rather than th’ observance:

    The True Gentleman

  • Rouxfus

    The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds
    from good will and an acute sense of propriety
    and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies;
    who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty,
    the obscure man of his obscurity,
    or any man of his inferiority or deformity;
    who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another;
    who does not flatter wealth,
    cringe before power,
    or boast of his own possessions or achievements;
    who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy;
    whose deed follows his word;
    who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own;
    and who appears well in any company;
    a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

  • Brian Dunbar

    But appearances do matter.

    And spelling counts.   Details are everything.

    I believe this, I do.    Learned it the hard way.

    albeit with overwhelming advantages of men and materiel on his side

    But that was unworthy of you.  Devalued Grant’s tactical and strategic genius.

    Like this: For three years a series of generals fought with those advantages. 

    They never did wield them effectively, never came close to beating Lee’s army.

    Grant’s genius was to understand how to effectively use the tools of modern war, how to run the army he was given to achieve a strategic goal.  It wasn’t manpower and material that beat the Confederacy, it was utilizing those tools in the context of what we now call maneuver war.

    • poetcomic1

      If there is anything more wearisome to me lately (I am a Catholic poet) than Catholic critics talking about Beauty (capital B) it is all this tut-tut-tut about manners and the collapse of civilized life.  The manners, dress, language, music and attitudes in the U.S. 2012 are perfectly attuned to our ‘so-called civilization’ .   It is a useless exercise in pique – and as for Grant… he wasn’t a Virginia Aristocrat but he certainly had something called CHARACTER as expressed perfectly in his rough clothing and his plainness.   I like the contrast and certainly don’t think that Lee expected his adversary to dress like Winfield Scott.
         Grant, as president, got suckered by some major crooks.  He did not disown his enormous debts and dying of a vicious and painful cancer he worked to finish his Memoirs just to raise the money to pay off what he owed.  That was an heroic and heartbreaking task.  The country held its collective breath to see if he could finish the book before the cancer finished him.  He did, the debts were paid off and he died.  No jeweled sword and no ‘beloved horse Traveler’, just grit and humble honor.

  • Bmarrs

    A well dressed person is one who dresses appropriately for the occasion.  Lee understood the significance of the occasion.   

    • bustleton1

      Agreed; given the circumstances of the occasion, Lee had every necessity to dress well for the occasion rather than Grant.  Grant’s excuses for not doing so are noted, and are acceptable.

      • Michael

         No, his dress was not acceptable and his excuses were just that.  He showed disrespect for a vanquished foe and a soldier of the highest level.  Grant succeeded because of things Lee could not control; however, it did not give Grant the right to make light of the surrender meeting.

        • Bustleton1

          Sorry, I hardly agree that Grant showed disrespect to Lee and that he made light of the surrender meeting.  Would you have preferred that Grant put on a dress uniform for the meeting, and then accepted Lee’s sword at the meeting (which he declined); and/ or clapped Lee and his men into a POWc camp; not issue them rations; or not issue them overly generous terms?? Grant is on  record of coming straight to the surrender meeting upon receiving word from Lee due to a sense of urgeny.  Sorry, I cannot fault Grant for that, or certainly for anything thereafter.  He certainly had been far more generous to Lee than I would have been.  I sure that Lee counted his blessings, and your petticoat is a little too revealing here.

  • Wresndad

    You ovelook the great courtesy Grant demonstrated by returning Lee’s sword & the generous terms he offered. Grant was a great military leader who knew how to win the war & understood that to reunite it he needed to show courtesy by his terms not his dress. The war was over when Lincoln realized the value of Grant- he knew how to win the war & had a working relationship with the other effective Union generals(Sherman and, more akwardly, with Thomas). Lee was more aristocratic, but not superior to, Grant. Future US officers studied Grant, not Lee.

    • aearon43

      Any American trying to affect aristocratic rank is embarrassing. 

  • Philip Chabot

    It is always distressing when an argument with which I might otherwise agree is based upon a faulty historical example.  Whatever the merits of the subsequent discussion, it will simply not do to ignore the assertion that Grant’s appearance at the meeting with Lee which culminated in Lee’s acceptance of Grant’s terms of surrender constituted “careless disrespect”.
    Whatever else one might say about the proceedings that culminated in the agreement by Lee to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House, to take the position that Grant’s failure to appear in a full dress uniform to match that of the Confederate commander was a sign of disrespect, is simply incorrect. I would be most interested to learn the sources of the implicit position that Grant could, had he so desired, have obtained and worn his full dress uniform.  Sources to the contrary are easy enough to obtain.  To mention but one, on page 433 of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 by Brooks D. Simpson (published in 2000), we read, “The wagon carrying his (Grant’s) dress uniform and other equipment was nowhere to be found at the moment…” (See the sources cited in footnote 54; see also, Grant Takes Command, Bruce Catton (1968) at 464).An additional fact that should be noted is that that it was Lee who controlled the timing of the meeting as it was his decision whether and when to surrender.  There had been a flurry of exchanges between Lee and Grant earlier that very day which clearly underscore that fact.  Lee was, therefore, in a better position to locate and don his dress uniform; indeed, for a while Grant was of the impression that Lee had decided to not surrender that day. 

    • Michael

       How strange – a general who had logistics to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia could not find a suitable uniform.  Clap trap!

      • Yankee

        Right, because ther are enver bumps in the road and military commanders never find themselves at a loss.  I bet in other debates you argue that Grant was an inferior general.  You probably changed here so you can drive home your point.

  • Meggie

    “The quality of Christian humility lay at the root of chivalry. A chivalrous knight (the term chivalry comes from the old French word, chevalier, meaning “horseman”) humbled himself to all others in society. ”

    I know that Lee, like the slave-owning, anti-slavery founding fathers, was personally anti-slavery, but if he wanted to practice humility, perhaps he should have started by humbling himself to the slaves and defending their rights. This article says a great deal more about the absurdity of appearances than about genuine humility. 

    • Cord_Hamrick

       Yes, ideally.

      But do, please, allow mere men the possibility of being heroic in their limited way even while their thinking remains half-or-more shackled by their era and upbringing. The patriarchs did not decry slavery or polygamy; the saints of old frequently did not demand the elimination of state-sanctioned tortures or the near-elimination of capital punishment. Under the circumstances of his upbringing, Lee did quite well.

      I suspect that only Jesus Himself was ever as thoroughly anachronistic as some seem to demand that all men be…and while it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always use Him as our model; nevertheless, when judging all other men by His standard, perhaps we should make some allowances for the fact that He is God?

  • J G

    I remember walking down the street in Florence, Italy. I listened to the American students studying abroad who surrounded me. They were crude, foul mouthed, and shallow. The MTV generation come to fruition. 

  • givelifeachance2

     Last Cavalier of the Old World laid down his sword in defeat”

    Perhaps the Last Cavalier could have chosen not to take up his sword in the first place to defend such a bankrupt cause.  Saving most of the 500,000 lives and the unfortunate Big Government sequelae of the Civil War.

  • Iain Sanders

    We live in an age of machines, surrounded by them, serving them, being pandered-to by them, eased by them, angered by them all at some stage in our use of them all.  Intensively-cared, operated on, medicined by them, test-tube conceived by them; one day cloned by them?  Slaughtered in the Great War by them, bombed by them, Hiroshima’d by a single one of them. How could you expect human manners to survive such a de-humanisation of human life?   Lee was defeated by the North’s industry & machines.  The defeat of the South is ironic in that their Peculiar Institution replaced machinery, & that lack made the North triumphant, yet absence of industry preserved mutual – human – respect, & ‘manners’ – for awhile.  In the country, where machines are fewest (per human capita), a recent study recorded people told each other ‘I love you’ far more often than city folks.  Love is respect too.  Machines don’t love.  They enhance anomie & hatred though. Perhaps Lee felt this.  Perhaps so did Grant. We mirror our environment. Machines don’t bruise, emotionally or physically. Some people were even polite to slaves & slaves could be polite, considerate & love each other as ‘co-workers’ rarely will today – even co-‘city-zens’.

  • Oneill

    One need not be extremely perceptive to realize that the current American culture is the culture of uncivilized savages.  Good manners do matter and so show a society where people do care about other people and how their demeanor will affect them.  The average American today is a hatefilled, foul mouthed slob; si requiris exemplum, circumspice.  Robert E Lee is the last public figure that embodied a sense of manners and good sense.  The modern American who prides himself on his politically correct version of American history feels free to cast dirt at Lee; fine but these fine Americans treat their fellow citizens in a totally disrespectful  way.  America has also infected the rest of the world where the slobs of society try to dress, act and speak like Americans.   America delenda est.

    • JiminGA

       Whether one likes them or not, George and Laura Bush were excellent examples of civility and good manners, and remain so today.  Manners and civility do exist today, particularly among the baby boomer generation that were raised to be men and ladies. 

      • RubyBlu

        Excellent example; I could not agree more.  They were/are very gracious people.

  • Jim Cole

    I doubt that Lee was offended.  Grant (and his Commander-in-Chief) offered Lee’s men generous terms that they had no real hope to expect–they kept their sidearms and personal horses and mules when they could rightly have expected to be bereft of all weapons and animals.  What Grant’s uniform and perhaps his small talk lacked, his gallantry in treatment of the surrendering army more than made up for.  Lee himself could have properly been taken prisoner and tried for treason, along with his officers, nearly all of whom had sworn oaths of fidelity before the war as United States officers.  They went free.  Finally, if in fact any breach of etiquette occurred, the Union Army more than made up for it at the surrender ceremony.  When the Confederates marched to the appointed place to stack their rifles and receive their paroles, the Union general who had been given charge of the ceremony–General Joshua Chamberlain, the man who had held Little Round Top at Gettysburg and had led the 20th Maine in the extraordinary bayonet charge that saved the Union line from being flanked–ordered the Union troops to come to attention and “carry arms.”  Today, I believe the command would be “present arms.”  It was a salute, an extraordinary gesture of respect for the defeated enemy.  It was, to my knowledge, the only time in history the winning side in a bloody and bitter civil war ever so acknowledged the bravery of the losing side.
    I think the point of the article was exactly right, but considering all the events at Appomattox, to make General Grant an example of bad manners was not well done.

  • Don

    It would appear that Dr. Klugewicz is enamored with the concept of Christian Chivalry as the savior of both manners and Western civilization, and that the concept that carried Western Civilization from the Middle Ages forward died when The Last Chevalier (Lee) laid down his sword. Funny, I along with G.K. Chesterton, thought that was Don John of Austria.

    I suggest the good Doctor might wish to refer to two volumes dealing with the concept of Christian Chivalry:
         1)  The Civilization of the Middle Ages, Norman F. Cantor, 1963, and
         2) The story of Civilization, Volume IV The Age of Faith, Will Durant, 1950.
    Neither of these historians would agree with the good Doctor.

    Cantor refers to the concept broadly as the customs of the warrior class coming to be replaced by the mores of of aristocratic gentlemen and, in a more limited sense the ideals and practices of courtly love. As to the former he states the kings were weak and crooked, the local clergy merely assistants to the feudal nobility, peasants only function was to toil for their lord and be massacred during war and, the bourgeois were hardly mentioned.  As to the later sense , it was more talked about than practiced, and then only by a handful of aristocratic ladies and their sycophants.

    Durant refers to the sham of the theory of Christian Chivalry as nothing more than aristocratic honor and noblese oblige. A few knights lived up to it. More commonly the knight would “… hear Mass in the morning, rob a church in the afternoon, and drink himself into obscenity at night…” To Durant this period was no more than restoration of the old Roman sense of “virtu” in an age gone soft.

    In closing, it is interesting to note that Lee’s tomb at the then Washington College was popularly known as “The Shrine of the South”

    • givelifeachance2

      It’s also the case that the chapel at Washington and Lee has a battlefield mural as the backdrop of its sanctuary.  Some manners!

  • chukker

    I couldn’t agree more and our culture is that much coarser and worse since the demise of chivalrous and gallant behavior.

    I heard something somewhere that I wish I had written down, but here’s my clumsy paraphrase:  the British had etiquette to provide the template for behavior in almost any circumstance.

  • Blair

    Nobody wants to be civil and it shows_____especially in politics.

  • Mary

    Thank you for your eloquent and insightful commentary. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.

  • Beau Brummel

    I learned,and I teach that Grant’s simplicity at the surrender was a gesture of respect by not appearing in his Glory.
    As for Lee, he is famous for bringing a Freedman to the alter rail to share Communion.

  • Mary Liz

    Been years since reading about Lee &Grant.
    Weve defiently declined in standards in every area.
    Whether we were going out to a special event,or to a mall
     we always dressed in our best clothes.
    In the early 70-‘s we saw how people around us stopped dressing in best attire.
    Breakdown in family was already there.Liz    
    Still shocked us though.

  • GoldenRudy

    The comment about grown men, and to a lessor extent women, wearing bluejeans to Mass struck home here.   Some say it is a small thing and to get over it, but it is the small things that over time accumulate to something very big.  The foul language used in mixed company, in public, in movies, and used on TV is a reflection of the dumbing down of American society.  Even the proper use of table ware (i.e., the fork) is fading away.  

  • Ruck0752

    A bit of the main point, but I’d add to the list of new offenses to manners is how dog owners bring their dogs to work, to stores, to cemeteries, to national memorials and to any place that they wish.