The past three decades have seen a surge of interest in forms of social analysis arising out of the study of conduct and manners – particularly among historians of early modern Europe and the periods prior to the Age of Democratic Revolution. The essays in this collection broaden the line of inquiry to include the American context from the colonial period to the present. Scholars from both the United States and Europe analyse the views of writers and social commentators – assessing, questioning, and re-evaluating the role of manners in American society. Should manners be seen as a particular feature of Old World aristocratic societies that have become obsolete in the New? Or do they continue to shape modern democratic societies, perhaps under a different 'gestalt'? Is the apparent absence of a sophisticated system of manners in the United States – as many nineteenth-century novelists thought – a sign of cultural and aesthetic impoverishment? Or does this absence signal the emergence of a new 'natural' and 'authentic' personality? Does the ubiquity of a relaxed or informal style in the twentieth century signal this new freedom of self-expression? Or does it indicate that other, more abstract disciplinary systems have superseded the regime of manners? The essays in this volume make clear that the discourse about American manners and civility – which has been readily engaged by writers and social critics at different moments in American history – was a discourse about the forces that shape the social processes in modern democracy.