From the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by Forrest McDonald, professor of history at the University of Alabama, on May 6:
It has been suggested by various intellectuals that the best thing Americans could do to commemorate the 200th anniversary of our Constitution would be to rewrite it to reflect the realities of the 20th century. . . . That assumption is as presumptuous as it is uninformed. To put it bluntly, it would be impossible in America today to assemble a group of people with anything near the combined experience, learning and wisdom that the 55 authors of the Constitution took with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. . . .
Thirty-five of the delegates had attended college. Just to enter college during the 18th century -- which students normally did at the age of 14 or 15 -- it was necessary, among other things, to be able to read and translate from the original Latin into English (I quote from the requirements at King's College -- now Columbia -- which were typical) "the first three of Tully's Select Orations and the first three books of Virgil's Aeneid," and to translate the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin, as well as to be "expert in arithmetic" and to have a "blameless moral character." I ask you, how many Americans today could even get into college, given those requirements?
Moreover, though the Framers were, as Jefferson called them, a group of demigods, it would have been easy in America in 1787 to have assembled another five, possibly 10, constitutional conventions that would have matched the actual convention in every way except for the incomparable luster of George Washington.
In fine, this was America's Golden Age, the likes of which we shall not see again