I bought some pocket-sized editions of the U.S. Constitution around Thanksgiving and began handing them out. When I ran out, I ordered more. This little act of patriotic gift-giving has given me great comfort. I’m not entirely sure why.
I stashed a copy amid homemade bourbon balls in the Christmas gift box I sent my brother, a Louisville, Ky., truck driver. I slid it into a travel coffee mug I had made with a photo of his pit bulls. “Great candy and I loved the mug,” he said when he called. “But what’s with this pamphlet with the old dude with the feather pen?”
He meant George Washington. I knew he was joking. “Read it,” I said. “And leave it someplace Mitch McConnell might find it.”
If that sounds snide, be assured that my project is bipartisan. I also begged my husband to leave one at the Grand Army Plaza subway station near Park Slope, Brooklyn, in hopes that Chuck Schumer, who lives nearby, would pick it up.
I wrapped one up for the holiday gift swap at my office. The person who opened it traded it rather unpatriotically for a bottle of London dry gin.
I left two copies in my building’s mailroom hoping they would enter interstate commerce. I mailed copies to my husband’s brothers, shipped alongside their annual holiday pears.
On Dec. 24, I slipped a copy into some fluffy socks that were a Hanukkah present for my son’s girlfriend, Emma. “Great gift,” she chuckled. “Very First Amendment.”
As the Christmas Eve lay reader at Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad, I left one in the pew where Abraham Lincoln worshiped. I hoped one of his “better angels” would find it.
Near midnight, Santa slipped a copy into my 95-year-old neighbor Grace’s stocking. “I don’t need a Constitution in my stocking,” said Grace, whose husband was killed in World War II when she was eight months pregnant. “I think about it every day.”
As my family drove to Vermont this weekend for New Year’s, I left a copy in a brochure rack on the New York State Thruway. When we arrived, I perched one near the fireplace in our bed and breakfast. Maybe Bernie Sanders will find it.
What’s come over me? I’m still trying to figure that out. This isn’t the first time I’ve sought comfort in the Constitution. For years, during my sons’ sleepovers, I’d read at lights out from a poster-sized edition of America’s “freedom documents.” First I’d read the Mayflower Compact, promising a “civil body politic” to my captive audience. A few lads would doze off. Then the Declaration of Independence, with its litany of grievances against King George III, building to the signers’ dramatic pledge to put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line. Onward to the Constitution and its preambulatory pledge “to form a more perfect union.”
Even if the boys didn’t sleep, I figured, at least I’d cultivate some patriots. The boys’ parents guessed I did it because I’m a lawyer, but that really wasn’t why. I think I did it to honor my grandmother Pearl Aiken, who sent her four sons to World War II. The sight of a bunch of sleepy boys, all snug and safe from harm in a Brooklyn loft, inspired me. It seemed like the least I could do for democracy.
The Constitution has never felt so alive to me, so vital, so fundamental to our shared future as it does this year. Reading it again, I’m amazed again by its breadth, anticipation of feuding states and legislators, bold separation of powers, and concern with tyranny that only a recent fight for freedom can bring. My sons and their friends are old enough to vote now, which means they’re old enough to question and judge for themselves whether our union is indeed more perfect now than it was then.
Amid impeachment, can Americans resolve to revisit this wellspring of fortitude and hope? By giving out copies of the Constitution I’ve tried in my small way to provide those around me with a reminder of the blessings of liberty, a bequest from the ages, and one of the most powerful communal gifts that all Americans still share. In 2020 I don’t pledge allegiance to an election outcome, candidate or party. I’m supporting anyone who protects the hope of democracy and honors due process and the rule of law.
Whether you’re a senator, a truck driver or a lawyer like me, do yourself a favor and read the Constitution sometime in the next few weeks. If you’ve read it before, read it again. Read it afresh and anew, alert for the echo of history and the promise of the coming decade.
Read it for my grandmother and her four enlisted sons. Read it for every boy and girl who falls asleep in the safety of America’s promise. Read it for the congregants of Plymouth Church who protected those with no freedom. Read it for families peacefully celebrating different holidays this season. Read it for my neighbor, widowed in a fight against tyranny. Read it for me. Read it for all of us—for we, the people.
I have a few copies left if you need one.
Ms. Koster is a New York lawyer.
Caroline Koster, in “ I Hand Out the Constitution, and It Makes Me Feel Great,” says, “It seems like the least I could do for democracy.”
This warped idea of what the Constitution is about is at the root of much of our troubles today. Democracy is majority rule. Elections are fights over who to steal from and who gets the spoils of those fights.
The reason the Constitution is important is that it ensures the rights of individuals over the common good (which ultimately benefits the common good). That inspires excellence and progress through the protection of individual achievement which is what all achievement is at its root.
Ms. Koster might feel great, like the late “Prince of Pork” (Robert Byrd) did with his pocket Constitution but neither one seems to have actually read the document.
“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what they are going to have for lunch.” – Ben Franklin