Today is Constitution Day. "Constitution Day--what's that?" you may well ask. It's not exactly a well-known holiday. In fact, it's only existed in an official sense since 2004, when a bill requiring schools to teach about the Constitution on September 17 was passed. But official or not, today marks the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. It may not be celebrated with fireworks like the Declaration of Independence is on July 4, but the Constitution is, if anything, more vital to the freedoms that we enjoy as a republic.
For this year's anniversary, my company, Welcome Books, is publishing yet another gorgeous illustrated version of the Constitution by master calligrapher and illustrator Sam Fink. We previously published the book in a numbered, signed limited edition portfolio one of which found its way into an exhibition that the Supreme Court in the great state of Pennsylvania mounted when we published the first trade and limited edition in 2006 and NBC Weekend Edition covered it. An earlier trade edition gave rise to a talk of Sam's to a sixth grade class covered by CNN.
The words are from our founding fathers. But the illustrations are all Sam's. He is ninety-four now and his passion for freedom is unabated. To him, the Constitution epitomizes the unique American attachment to freedom. Born in 1916, with grandparents who emigrated from Russia, Sam has a deep appreciation for the rights that are guaranteed by this country's founding document. In school, most of us had to memorize a list of rights and freedoms that are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly... and that's just the First Amendment. The way Sam sees it, "Our constitution has a set of rules that are so important that without them, there would be chaos. The Constitution keeps us human," he says describing it as the backbone of our country, creating a society where freedom is a central principle, keeping us free.
In a letter to me, Sam discussed his understanding of freedom in terms of his own personal experiences. When he was 18, at the height of the Great Depression, it meant being able to hitchhike across the country with $50 in travelers' checks--all his savings--in his pocket. Much later, it meant setting himself a task--like copying out and illustrating the entire Constitution--and thriving in the process of restricting himself to just those words.
In a way, that's what the Constitution itself is: a set of rules, but rules designed to protect freedom, not limit it.
Ray Bradbury said of this book that every family should have one. I agree. I think that to understand this nation, we all need to read the Constitution ourselves once in a while, and come to our own understanding of its meaning. I hope Sam's beautiful, playful book will help you do that. It is an accessible heirloom.