A Letter From the Publisher: Jul. 6, 1987

In conceiving this special issue on the Constitution, TIME's editors set out to portray the charter not as a dry historical relic but as a vital part of American life. Says Senior Editor Jose M. Ferrer III, who oversaw the project: "We thought, 'If it is a living document, as is often said, why is that so? What is the news of it?' We took off from there. We wanted to show that the Constitution is all around us in ways we almost take for granted."

The foldout cover painting, created by Illustrator Richard Hess, captures that spirit by gathering a...