Fact Check

Did George Washington Say, 'It Is Better To Be Alone Than In Bad Company'?

He was, at least, aware of the saying.

Published Nov 29, 2022

Digitally restored vector painting of the first United States President George Washington. (John Parrot/Stocktrek Images)
Digitally restored vector painting of the first United States President George Washington. (Image Via John Parrot/Stocktrek Images)
George Washington, the first president of the U.S., once said, "It is better to be alone than in bad company."

Washington did, however, transcribe this maxim into a school copybook as a boy from a written collection of "rules of civility."

Online accounts often attribute this quote about keeping good company to George Washington:

Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

This quote is well-associated with the first president of the U.S., but he did not author it. Instead, the quote comes from a collection of "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" regularly used by school children of that era. As described by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union:

These maxims originated in the late sixteenth century in France and were popularly circulated during Washington's time. This exercise, now regarded as a formative influence in the development of his character, included guidelines for behavior in pleasant company, appropriate actions in formal situations, and general courtesies.

"Sometime before the age of 16," the Library of Congress writes, "Washington transcribed 110 'Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation' into his school copybook." That copybook is included in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress.

Because Washington did not originate the saying, Snopes therefore rates the quote as "Misattributed."


"About This Collection | George Washington Papers | Digital Collections | Library of Congress." Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, https://www.loc.gov/collections/george-washington-papers/about-this-collection/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

"George Washington Quotes." BrainyQuote, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_washington_377893. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

Moats, Stacie. George Washington: Living the "Rules of Civility" | Teaching with the Library of Congress. 10 May 2012, https://blogs.loc.gov/teachers/2012/05/george-washington-living-the-rules-of-civility/.

"The Rules of Civility." George Washington's Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/rules-of-civility/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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