Editor’s note: Former Illinois Republican congressman Henry Hyde died early Thursday morning. National Review Online asked some former colleagues, friends, and admirers to assess his legacy.
Helen Alvare My fondest recollection of Congressman Henry Hyde involved parliamentary maneuvering, a glass of champagne, and a horde of “pro-life feminists” storming his congressional office to give him a group hug. I can’t recall the precise year, but it was during the early 1990s — the “bad old days,” when opinion polls still claimed that more Americans called themselves “pro-choice” than “pro-life” (that is no longer the case). The days when abortion advocates were still blathering something about the unborn children being “inhuman” (science seems finally to have silenced this silliness). Congressman Hyde was struggling in those days to pass again his “Hyde Amendment” preventing federal Medicaid funds from being spent on abortions. His substantive amendment was defeated and the only possibility for success lay in putting limiting language in the relevant appropriations bill. After a day and a night of work and umpteen consultations with the House parliamentarian, victory was achieved! Immediately, a group of us associated with Feminists for Life tromped down to his office on the hill where champagne was being served at some ungodly hour of the morning. It took four or five of us to give him a proper hug, given his size in those days. The joy, the eloquence, the zest for life that made him the advocate that saw the movement through some of its darkest days, was on full display that morning. May God bless you now for your work, great Friend of Mothers, of Children, of Life!
– Helen Alvare, a professor at the Catholic University of America’s law school, is a longtime pro-life activist and former pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Carl A. Anderson Some 25 years ago, I recall bringing Mother Teresa to Henry Hyde’s congressional office for what was supposed to have been a “brief” meeting. They both sat on his couch, and it was immediately apparent to me that they were on the same wavelength. Their conversation about the need to build a culture of life, and help those in need, went on for quite a while, and the “brief” meeting lasted until finally Henry had to leave or miss a vote on the House floor. Pro-lifers have never had a better friend in congress.
Henry Hyde was an effective leader because he genuinely loved people, and he was too nice for his opponents to get angry at. At the end of the day, you always knew that he’d do what was right, and that’s why so many people were always ready to go the extra mile for him.
At the Knights of Columbus, we all aspire to be “Catholic gentlemen,” and Henry Hyde was a Knight for 53 years. He was the very epitome of a Catholic gentleman, and we all owe him a huge debt for a life of public service well spent.
– Carl Anderson worked in the Reagan White House, and later served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Today, he is Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s organization with 1.7 million members worldwide.
John Boehner I have long included Henry Hyde among my heroes, and for the 16 years I served with him in the House, I was honored to call him a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. Henry was a student of American history, a constitutional scholar, a thoughtful legislator, and a passionate orator. But above all, he will be remembered as a gentleman who stood as a beacon for the bedrock principles of liberty, justice, and, above all, respect for life. His work in crafting the Mexico City policy, for example, remains among his most significant accomplishments in Congress, and it will forever be remembered as a defining moment for the pro-life cause.
What often struck me most about Henry was his keen sense of our nation’s history and of the gifts bestowed on our Republic by the Founding Fathers, whose actions and deeds were never far from his mind. In his respect for the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives, Henry took second place to no one. He was a forceful advocate for maintaining the dignity of the House and for recognizing the sacrifices and struggles Members make while in its service. Indeed, when Henry spoke in Committee or on the House floor, Members on both sides of aisle listened intently — and they learned. And while he had unquestionably strong views on domestic and foreign policy, Henry never allowed political differences to cloud personal relationships.
Henry served his country with great honor and distinction, and it is only fitting that President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom just three weeks ago. Hard as it is to let go, we can be comforted knowing that God gave us a man of Henry Hyde’s character who did his patriotic duty to the fullest. I send my thoughts and prayers to the entire Hyde family in their time of loss.”
– John Boehner (R., Ohio) is House Republican leader.
Tom DeLay He was brilliant and noble and eloquent. His legendary floor speeches changed the votes of hardened, career partisans. It was like Atticus Finch was elected to Congress. Like everyone else, I loved Henry Hyde the gallant statesman, the silver-tongued knight who fought and won more important battles than any conservative in history.
But what I remember today, almost incredulously, is Henry Hyde the Congressman. During his 16 terms in the House, that man was everywhere.
In 1976, when the Equal Rights Amendment was still on the verge of ratification, he won passage for legislation to prohibit the federal funding of abortion. In 1987, when liberals tried to bring down the Reagan Administration in the Iran-Contra scandal, Hyde exposed their cynical strategy in one hearing cross-examination after another.
In 1995, Hyde’s Judiciary Committee generated more than half of the Contract with America legislation. And, in 1998, when our constitution and national honor were threatened, he endured withering attacks to successfully defend them both.
It’s time we put his towering legacy in its proper context: Henry Hyde was nothing less than the greatest man of the Greatest Generation.
– Congressman Tom DeLay is the Former House Majority Leader.
Jack Fowler A favorite Henry Hyde story: It is the height of the congressional Sandinista wars. Hyde has criticized Senator Daniel Moynihan, who had been tirading over the CIA mining of the Managua harbor. The two meet in the Capitol at an elevator bank. Short unpleasant words are exchanged. The doors open, Moynihan enters, and as the doors close, he raises his right hand and flips Hyde the one-finger salute.
He is leaning back in his House office chair, his mountainous shoulders heaving as he laughs. That smile, that white mane, a brandished cigar — what a sight (and site!) he is. Hyde clearly enjoys regaling how he brought the pompous New York intellectual to his Hell’s Kitchen roots.
– Jack Fowler is the publisher of National Review.
Richard W. Garnett There is so much to admire in Rep. Henry Hyde’s more than 40 years of public service in state and national legislatures. At or near the top of the list, of course, is the Amendment that bears his name: The Hyde Amendment — first enacted shortly after Rep. Hyde came to Congress — was and has long been an important, inspiring pro-life achievement. Even during the early years after Roe, when it seemed that the Supreme Court was unwilling to permit even the mildest and most reasonable abortion regulations, the Hyde Amendment protected the consciences of millions of Americans by limiting the use of federal tax dollars for subsidizing abortion. As the current election cycle reminds us, so many in politics, and in both parties, have found it convenient over the years to flip and flop from one side of the abortion question to the other. However, as President Bush observed recently, when he awarded Rep. Hyde the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the congressman was always — in his mind, heart, and voting record — a “powerful defender of life” and a champion for “freedom around the world.” God bless him.