It wasn’t innate. Washington had a hot temper and could be headstrong and high-handed, but he also worked on his manners. By the time he was 16, he had copied out the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.
Here’s a sampling from the book, a code of 110 rules, that Washington often displayed:
No. 45. In disciplining someone, “do it with all sweetness and mildness.”
No. 23. Avoid appearing vengeful. When you see a crime punished, show pity to the criminal.
No. 44. When people put all their effort into something that fails, don’t blame them for trying.
No. 1. “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
— Adapted from “A Man on Horseback,” Richard Brookhiser, The Atlantic Monthly.