In the late American nineteenth century, oratory was de rigueur. Institutionally, liberal arts colleges sought to distinguish themselves by teaching moral character. Such an ethotic education was sine qua non for any student of political oratory. This essay argues that such an emphasis on character and oratory, coupled with Illinois College’s rhetorical curriculum and extracurricular events, afforded a kairotic and didactic moment for William Jennings Bryan to learn and practice Isocrates’ brand of rhetorical paideia. Taught primarily through the use of paradigm cases and imitation, Isocrates emphasized the import of a speaker’s ethos over the art itself. Bryan shared this perspective. Drawing from both “Against the Sophists” and “Antidosis,” we conduct a comparative analysis by reading Isocrates’ ethotic-based rhetorical theory alongside of Bryan’s 1881 graduating oration entitled “Character.”

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