I'm reading The Great Upheaval--America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 by Jay Winik, and I cannot help but be struck again with amazement at a generation that produced a Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Madison, Adams, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, Gouverneur Morris and others.
Can we say with certainty that others would have risen to the occasion? I don't think so. The combination of brains, charisma, talent and leadership in that generation of Founding Fathers was something special. They were able to hammer out a fledgling republic when every nation in Europe anticipated failure. They even overcame the difficulties of the Articles of Confederation and the antipathy of their own countrymen to create the United States.
To me, histories like this read like thrillers. So much could have gone wrong with so little effort. A stray bullet could have taken out George Washington, who gained power by refusing power, something no other political leader might have done. He was, as others have pointed out, the "indispensable man" and needed as the father of his country.
I know I'm a history wonk, but it's good to be reminded that whatever we are today as a nation, we stand on the shoulders of giants.