The Great American Documents

More than three years in the making, Uncle Sam Presents The Great American Documents, Volume One, was published in both hardcover and trade paperback formats. The stunning artwork from the graphics genius of veteran Ernie Colon illustrates the twenty document stories written by longtime author of histories, biographies, and books on the struggle for women’s rights, Ruth Ashby. Married for decades, this is the talented pair’s first work together in print, and the results are magnificent.

The volume includes the big hitters such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist papers, but also brings to life the stories behind such centrally important documents as “Common Sense,” the Missouri Compromise, and the Monroe Doctrine. The story of the War of 1812 (sometimes called “the second war for independence”) is told through the lens of Francis Scott Key witnessing the British nighttime assault on Fort McHenry. Seeing the American flag still waving in the morning breeze, he sat down and began to write the poem that would eventually take the nation by storm and become our national anthem.

The book is a unique blend of potent editorial cartooning and splendid graphic storytelling, beautifully executed in full color. If you want a refreshing reminder of how the United States came to be, what its struggles were and how they were overcome, and by whom, buy this book. Impress your friends—and kids— with your new-found knowledge of our country.



Library Journal Review

Ashby, Ruth (text) & Ernie Colón (illus.). The Great American Documents. Vol. 1: 1620–1830. Hill & Wang. Apr. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9780809094608. $40; pap. ISBN 9780374534530. $20. HIST Uncle Sam leads the reader on a tour of the United States’ foundational documents in Ashby’s (Caedmon’s Song; Rocket Man: The Mercury Adventure of John Glenn) new graphic history primer. The 20 items presented here cover the time of the Pilgrims’ arrival in the New World to the tense period preceding the Civil War. . . . Colón’s (Che: A Graphic Biography; The 9/11 Report: The Graphic Adaptation) illustrations help greatly in clarifying concepts and adding dashes of drama and humor to the work. A helpful suggested reading list for students wishing to take the next step in their research is included.

Verdict: An effective and engaging introduction to some of the key documents that shaped our nation. Highly recommended for middle and high school collections as well as readers looking for a quick-reading survey of American historical highlights.

—Neil Derksen


From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ashby, the author of many biographies and histories for youth (The Amazing Mr. Franklin, 2004), and her well-known cartoonist husband, Colón (Inner Sanctum, 2011), breathe accessible and cogent life into the written documents that formed U.S. policy, beginning with the Mayflower Compact (1620) and ending with the Indian Removal Act (1830). With a knowledgeable, engaging Uncle Sam as narrator, Ashby and Colón lay out the events and beliefs leading to the development of each document, and quoted snippets from each give further insight into their powerful words. Colón uses well-designed, full-color panel layouts to eloquently blend charts and other informative graphics with straightforward images of events, clothing, and customs as well as clear, concise metaphors, all with an eye toward promoting a solid understanding of the basic facts and their impact. For readers unmoved by the importance of the documents alone, Ashby and Colón emphasize how words that were controversial in the past continue to be controversial today—for instance, a spread exploring the Constitution’s goal of promoting “the general welfare” includes an illustration of a line of people at a contemporary Social Security office. School libraries would do well to include this engaging volume in their history collections. Grades 9-12.

–Francisca Goldsmith –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


 Kirkus Reviews

An illustrated history of the early United States, narrated by Uncle Sam.

. . . a straightforward account of the development of the United States, from the landing of the Pilgrims through the establishment of the colonies and to the issues of states’ rights and slavery that would split the nation in the Civil War (where Volume 2 will resume the narrative). The decision by children’s and young-adult book author Ashby (Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle, 2009) to focus on 20 documents might make the material seem dry, but the panels from Colón (Inner Sanctum: Tales of Horror, Mystery and Suspense, 2011, etc.) highlight how much discussion, debate, argument and even warfare went into each. Ashby also doesn’t limit the focus to the greatest hits—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution—but shows the importance of less-familiar writings such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, “perhaps the most influential publication in American history.” Paine’s more obscure The American Crisis also receives its due. What the narrative makes plain is how much of what citizens take for granted was initially the source of so much controversy. Early on, “most Americans—even the Founding Fathers—still thought of themselves first and foremost as citizens of their home states, not the United States.” Among the colonists, religious freedom and even free speech were contentious issues rather than essential liberties; the decision to declare independence from England was by no means unanimous; and the balance between the state and federal governments remained precarious. The narrative doesn’t sugarcoat history, as it shows how the capitulation on the slavery issue, deemed necessary for these states to be united, made civil war inevitable and how the Indian Removal Act also betrayed the equality that was a founding principle.

The cartoon approach helps refresh history and make it come alive. A good primer for students and a refresher course for their parents.


Publishers Weekly

(Starred review)
Comics great Colón, who in the last decade tackled Anne Frank and 9/11 in graphic novels, teams up with women’s and minority history scholar Ashby (Her Story: Women Who Changed the World, Rosa Parks: Freedom Rider) to produce an educational graphic novel. The authors use personal stories of historic figures such as black plantation owner Anthony Johnson, Franco-Indian War Gen. Half King, and Anne Hutchinson, a leader in the fight for religious tolerance, to bring an honest, identifiable realism to the historical documents that they cover here. Using notable treatises, pamphlets, laws, proclamations, and other documents, the book—which begins with the Mayflower Compact and ends with the Monroe Doctrine and the Indian Removal Act—weaves together nearly two dozen vignettes with clarity and synthesis. Most remarkably, it covers the culture and context of each time period with a balanced truthfulness. Colon’s . . .  historical figures are instantly recognizable, and the authors strive for a balance of genders and ethnicities that will keep a range of readers interested. For those who aren’t just curious about history but who really want to understand it, this is an exemplary volume. (May)



The essential primer on 20 of the most influential American documents between 1620 and 1830, The Great American Documents series, written by the graphic-book author Ruth Ashby and illustrated by the renowned Ernie Colón, tells the history of America through the major speeches, laws, proclamations, court decisions, and essays that shaped it. Volume 1 introduces as the series narrator none other than Uncle Sam, who walks readers through 20 major documents bookended by the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Each document gets its own chapter, in which Uncle Sam explains not only its key passages but its origins, how it came to be written, and its impact. In the chapter “The Maryland Toleration Act” we learn that the document was one of the first blueprints for modern religious tolerance. “Common Sense” depicts the Boston Tea Party and the British response as the prelude to Paine’s stirring pamphlet. And “The Louisiana Purchase Treaty” closes with Lewis and Clark setting off to map Jefferson’s “empire of liberty.” As Ashby shows, the creation of that empire made for immense prosperity but also entailed the extension of slavery and the forcible removal of the Indians. Her balanced and teachable theme is that these twenty documents embodied our early struggles to live up to the principles of liberty and equality. A handy and elegantly concise guide, this masterfully illustrated volume is the perfect book for students of American history, young and old.

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