Among those who make up aristocratic circles, such as are above them are deemed of superior, and such as are below of inferior, value. Thus, if a young, ignorant, and vicious coxcomb happens to have been born a lord, the aged, the virtuous, the learned, and the well-bred of another class must give his convenience the precedence, and must address him in terms of respect. So, sometimes, when a man of "noble birth" is thrown among the lower classes, he demeans himself in a style which, to persons of his own class, would be deemed the height of assumption and rudeness.
Now, the principles of democracy require that the same courtesy which we accord to our own circle shall be extended to every class and condition; and that distinctions of superiority and subordination shall depend, not on accidents of birth, fortune, or occupation, but solely on those mutual relations which the good of all classes equally require. The distinctions demanded in a democratic state are simply those which result from relations that are common to every class, and are for the benefit of all.
It is for the benefit of every class that children be subordinate to parents, pupils to teachers, the employed to their employers, and subjects to magistrates. In addition to this, it is for the general well-being that the comfort or convenience of the delicate and feeble should be preferred to that of the strong and healthy, who would suffer less by any deprivation; that precedence should be given to their elders by the young; and that reverence should be given to the hoary head.
The rules of good-breeding, in a democratic state, must be founded on these principles. It is indeed assumed that the value of the happiness of each individual is the same as that of every other; but as there must be occasions where there are advantages which all can not enjoy, there must be general rules for regulating a selection. Otherwise, there would be constant scrambling among those of equal claims, and brute force must be the final resort; in which case the strongest would have the best of every thing. The democratic rule, then, is, that superiors in age, station, or office, have precedence of subordinates; age and feebleness, of youth and strength ; and the feebler sex, of more vigorous man.*
There is, also, a style of deportment and address which is appropriate to these different relations. It is suitable for a superior to secure compliance with his wishes from those subordinate to him by commands; but a subordinate must secure compliance with his wishes from a superior by request. (Although the kind and considerate manner to subordinates will always be found the most effective as well as the pleasantest, by those in superior station.) It is suitable for a parent, teacher, or employer, to admonish for neglect of duty; but not for an inferior to adopt such a course toward a superior. It is suitable for a superior to take precedence of a subordinate without any remark; but not for an inferior without previously asking leave, or offering an apology. It is proper for a superior to use language and manners of freedom and familiarity which would be improper from a subordinate to a superior.
The want of due regard to these proprieties occasions a great defect in American manners. It is very common to hear children talk to their parents in a style proper only between companions and equals ; so, also, the young address their elders; those employed, their employers; and domestics, the members of the family and their visitors in a style which is inappropriate to their relative positions. But courteous address is required not merely toward superiors; every person desires to be thus treated, and therefore the law of benevolence demands such demeanor toward all whom we meet in the social intercourse of life. "Be ye courteous," is the direction of the apostle in reference to our treatment of all.
Good manners can be successfully cultivated only in early life and in the domestic circle. There is nothing which depends so much upon habit as the constantly recurring proprieties of good-breeding; and if a child grows up without forming such habits, it is very rarely the case that they can be formed at a later period. The feeling that it is of little consequence how we behave at home if we conduct ourselves properly abroad, is a very fallacious one. Persons who are careless and ill-bred at home may imagine that they can assume good manners abroad; but they mistake. Fixed habits of tone, manner, language, and movements can not be suddenly altered; and those who are ill-bred at home, even when they try to hide their bad habits, are sure to violate many of the obvious rules of propriety, and yet be unconscious of it.
* The universal practice of this nation, in thus giving precedence to woman has been severely commented on by foreigners, and by some who would transfer all the business of the other sex to women, and then have them treated like men. But we hope this evidence of our superior civilization and Christianity may increase rather than diminish.
And there is nothing which would so effectually remove prejudice against our democratic institutions as the general cultivation of good-breeding in the domestic circle. Good manners are the exterior of benevolence, the minute and constant exhibitions of "peace and good-will;" and the nation, as well as the individual, which most excels in the external demonstration, as well as the internal principle, will be most respected and beloved.
It is only the training of the family state according to its true end and aim that is to secure to woman her true position and rights. When the family is instituted by marriage, it is man who is the head and chief magistrate by the force of his physical power and requirement of the chief responsibility; not less is he so according to the Christian law, by which, when differences arise, the husband has the deciding control, and the wife is to obey. "Where love is, there is no law;" but where love is not, the only dignified and peaceful course is for the wife, however much the man's superior, to "submit, as to God and not to man."