Thus the story of manners in late eighteenth-century America is not simply the story of the spread of aristocratic refinement in tension with the republicanism of the rest of the culture, as Richard Bushman suggests; for the middling sort repudiated the basis of aristocratic power even as they seized the aristocratic armor of manners and remade it for their own purposes.
Only about a tenth of revolutionary-era conduct works were addressed to the elite alone, while over two-thirds addressed the middling sort.
But even here the period's trends of a more elaborate version of previously aristocratic advice to the middling sort and an aversion to servility are evident.
Greater attention is paid to the accidental circumstances of rank and affluence, than to real merit; we should not else so often see people of the middling rank, when flattered by the notice of a superior, so elated with the honor of keeping, what they call good company, when perhaps that superior is conspicuous for almost every vice and meanness.
Some writers actually discouraged middling folk from choosing superiors as companions or paying them too frequent visits.
In many cases, the elite and the middling sort were given similar advice, but the latter were given a few extra tips.
That similar advice is found in revolutionary-era works intended for "persons of quality" and works intended for a wider audience suggests that the gap between the middling sort and the elite was narrowing.
The elite and the middling sort were given especially similar advice on behavior with equals, owing, in large part, to the great influence that Chesterfield's Letters were already having on works for the middle class; but the advice in works for the middling sort was always more extensive and elaborate than advice intended only for the elite.
Writers for the middling sort also advised against having an extensive acquaintance or too many familiar friends.
Writers who addressed the middling sort gave further instructions.
Writers who addressed the middling sort as well as the elite both shared and embellished Chesterfield's suggestion that one should take the lower rather than the higher or more honorable places in company, unless bid to do otherwise.
Writers for the elite and writers for the middling sort alike recommended a moderate degree of reserve with equals, a notion John Adams echoed in his diary; and some authors repeated Chesterfield's suggestion that "the general rule is to have a real reserve with almost everyone, and a seeming reserve with almost no one.
Writers for the middling sort as well as the great repeated this advice but warned more emphatically that one's gracefulness should not seem affected.