Politics & Policy

A Life for Life

Henry Hyde's legacy.

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.

Richard W. Garnett is a professor at the University of Notre Dame’s law school.

Robert P. George

Henry Hyde will rightly be remembered as a man of steadfast principle who, in the era of Roe v. Wade, never gave up hope that our nation would fully honor its commitment to the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family, including the child in the womb. As a member of the House of Representatives, and Chairman for several years of its Committee on the Judiciary, Hyde worked unceasingly to rectify the wrong of depriving an entire class of human beings of the law’s most elementary protections. His commitment to fighting the evils of abortion and human embryo-destructive research, despite deep and widespread support for these practices in elite sectors of our culture, was sustained by his religious faith; at the same time, it flowed from his dedication to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. In this latter respect, the Illinois Republican resembled no one so much as the Illinois Republican of a prior era who, at Gettysburg, reminded his countrymen that ours is a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

In the cause of defending human life, Henry Hyde became a great man. With justice, the tributes that will now come flooding in will refer to him as a statesman. But Hyde did not begin his political career as a great man, or even as an especially good one. He was, in the early years, an ordinary politician, not one of the worst, but not among the best. The low point came in the late-1960s when, while serving in the Illinois legislature, he carried on an extramarital affair. (It would later generate against him charges of hypocrisy when, in his role as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he led the movement to impeach Bill Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky matter.) Not long after that, however, the question of abortion was thrust onto the national stage and Hyde mustered the strength of character to see it as what it is, namely, the deliberate taking of innocent human life. He knew that his duty was to defend its victims. The effect on him — politically, morally, spiritually — was profound and enduring. He himself could not have realized it at the time, but his days of being an ordinary politician — and an ordinary man—were over. He was on his way to becoming the statesman whose loss so many today mourn, and whose memory the nation will long honor.

– Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

Jeb Hensarling

I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of Henry Hyde, a leader in the conservative movement in the House for decades. Today we remember him as a true statesman and leader of distinction who served the American people with courage, nobility and pride. Chairman Hyde was a pioneer in the effort to protect human life, and because of his tireless efforts, there are thousands of people living around the world today who remember his service to mankind. He was a commanding presence in an institution that too often lacks them, and a voice of statesman and intelligence in a field that too often overlooks them.

Henry’s great victory for humankind will never be forgotten, particularly by those who live today because of the Hyde Amendment. There aren’t many people who can move on from the boundaries of earth knowing that their effort has saved thousands and thousands of human beings. Henry can rest knowing that he has done so. His work to protect human rights across the globe was relentless and will carry on for generations to come, in countries that many of us will never visit, in villages that many of us will never see. Though we reflect on his passing with great sadness, Chairman Hyde’s steadfast dedication to the belief in the sanctity of life reminds each of us that there is more work to be done. I offer my prayers, condolences, and sincere gratitude to my friend (and Henry Hyde’s son, who resides in Dallas, Texas) Bob Hyde, his siblings and the rest of the Hyde family.

– Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R., Tex) is chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Kate O’Beirne

Henry Hyde was the original compassionate conservative. In his exemplary public service, he was devoted to giving voice to the voiceless, devoting his singular talents to defending people he would never know. The vulnerable who found a champion in Mr. Hyde included unborn children and victims of Communist oppression. Those privleged to know the gentleman from Illinois witnessed firsthand his humanity and humor. I mourn the loss of a man of uncommon intellect and integrity whom I admired for decades and who honored and enriched me with his friendship.

– Kate O’Beirne is Washington Editor of National Review.

Christopher Smith

Henry Hyde was one of the rarest, most accomplished and most distinguished Members of Congress ever to serve. He was a class act.

Henry was a man of deep and abiding faith, generous to a fault with an incisive mind that worked seamlessly with his incredible sense of humor. He was a friend and colleague who inspired and challenged us to look beyond surface appeal arguments and to take seriously the admonitions of Holy Scripture to care for the downtrodden, the vulnerable and the least of our brethren.

In the greatest human rights issue of our time — the right to life, Henry Hyde will always be known as a champion and great defender of children and their moms. Because of the Hyde Amendment countless young children and adults walk on this earth today and have an opportunity to prosper because they were spared destruction when they were most at risk. With malice towards none, Henry Hyde often took to the House floor to politely ask us to show compassion and respect — even love — for the innocent and inconvenient baby about to be annihilated.

A Congressman for 32 years, a chairman for 6 years of the Judiciary Committee and for another 6 years Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Henry was a prodigious lawmaker. With uncanny skill, determination and grace, he crafted numerous, historic bipartisan laws and common-sense policies that lifted people out of poverty, helped alleviate disease, strengthened the U.S. Code to protect victims and get the criminals off the streets. He was magnificent in his defense of democracy and freedom both here and overseas.

One of his many legislative accomplishments includes his authorship of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) a 5-year $15 billion plan to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. During the debate Chairman Hyde was positively incisive as he compared the HIV/AIDS crisis to the Bubonic plague of the 14th century — the black death—and challenged us to enact a comprehensive program, which we did, to rescue the sick, assist the dying and prevent the contagion from spreading.

Having served with this brilliant one-of-a-kind lawmaker, I know the world will truly miss Henry Hyde. Still, we take some comfort in knowing that Henry Hyde’s kind, compassionate and generous wit and ability will live on in the many laws he wrote to protect and enhance the lives of others.

Christopher Smith is a congressman (R.) in New Jersey.

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