Henry Hyde (1924-2007) was my congressman. Yes, he was a
national figure to many. Indeed, I believe he was one of the most influential figures in
recent American political history. But to me he will always be “my congressman.”
He not only represented my
Hyde’s district did not always include my area of Illinois but in redrawing the political district many years ago he became our congressman. I was delighted! Whenever I saw him I felt a pride in knowing that this was the man who in some way spoke for me in a powerful but graciously human way. You see Henry Hyde was not your ordinary political figure. Nor was he always the mean conservative that many thought him to be. He was a man of the people, who always had time to care for the human person individually, and he was a man of highest moral character. (I know all about his moral indiscretions, revealed during Clinton impeachment hearings to help defame him. These occurred while he was serving in the Illinois House. But I am reminded that the very essence of Christian faith is grace and forgiveness. His actions after his mistakes demonstrated his repentance and changed life profoundly, making him all the more credible to me. The timing of this news story was meant to discredit Congressman Hyde since it was argued that the entire Clinton issue was about sexual indiscretion, which it was not at all and Hyde's legal mind understood the distinction well.)
Hyde was born on April 18, 1924, in Chicago. He served the US Navy in Word War II and was a member of the Naval Reserves until 1968. His law degree was from Loyola in Chicago. He entered the Illinois House in 1966, becoming majority leader from 1971-72. In 1974 he was elected to the U.S. Congress. His very first actions in the House marked the future of his career profoundly. Against many negative voices, and in a time when few were willing to take the stand that he took, Henry Hyde introduced and promoted a bill that was rightly called “The Hyde Amendment.” This law banned federal money for abortions. It was the first major set-back for the abortionists in American.
He was either vilified or beloved for "The Hyde Amendment" for the rest of his public life. Critics say all that he did was stop abortions among the poorest of the
poor. Friends believed that he was a voice crying in the wilderness for the unborn
and stood at the gate saying, “Stop, federal tax dollars should not be used to
support killing the unborn.” They also argue that his actions saved many lives, maybe in the millions.
In two of his most public stands 1987 Hyde defended President Reagan in the Iran-contra controversy and later led the impeachment inquiry into President Clinton's perjury for lying under oath and delivered the House decision to the Senate where it was narrowly defeated. Democrats will always dislike Henry Hyde for these two actions as much as anything that he did.
But Hyde was not a straight “party-line” leader. He voted for the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993, breaking ranks with Republicans. He also voted for the assault weapon band in 1994, saying at that time, “Flame-throwers were not what our Founding Fathers wanted.” And he backed the Brady Law requiring a waiting period on the purchase of guns. Other examples could be given but Henry Hyde was a man of principle and a man of character. This is why President Bush rightly gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year.
I will always remember Henry Hyde as a champion of the United States Constitution and the values, morality and optimism expressed in our founding documents. He embraced and lived for honesty in government, something too many of his own Republican peers did not protect over the last few years, to both their shame and political loss. Hyde never got caught up in the hubris of power. He stood openly for the right to life and traditional American values but he did not jump into the limelight to seek acclaim.
Congressman Peter Roskam, who has the ability to truly follow in Hyde’s steps, is my present congressman. Roskam, himself a Christian and a strong advocate for all that Hyde stood for over three decades, referred yesterday to Hyde’s approach to all things as one that was carefully measured. I agree. Peter Roskam further added, following Hyde’s passing yesterday, “He earned the right to be heard by his colleagues. He didn’t give an opinion on everything. But he was very thoughtful and careful so when he did weigh in on an issue people listened because they knew it was something he took seriously. He wasn’t one of those people who are quick to jump in front of the television cameras.”
Henry Hyde was also a great public speaker, a rare thing
these days. I would go anywhere to hear him. The first time I noticed this ability
was well over twenty years ago when I saw a speech of his on human life (on C-Span)
that he gave at Notre Dame University. Some were less than friendly to him that day but he handled himself so well. I was hooked and thus wrote to him. (At that time he was not my congressman yet and he wrote me a lovely letter back.) I agree with former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R.-IL) who said that when Henry Hyde spoke, "I would get tingles up my spine." As corny as that might sound I found it true many, many times. Henry Hyde moved me like few political figures.
A devout Roman Catholic, who loved his Lord and his Christian faith, Henry Hyde often spoke to pro-life groups. He would say, “When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, that it is a terrible moment of loneliness. You have no advocates, you are there alone before God, and a terror will rip through your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think those in the pro-life movement will not be alone. I think there will be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard beautifully and clearly in the next world, and they will plead for everyone who has been in this movement. They will say to God “Spare him because he loved us,” and God will look at you and say not, “Did you succeed?” but “Did you try?”
Henry Hyde used his influence to try to save lives and he made a huge difference. History will, at least in some way, surely remember him.
In 1985 Hyde wrote a book titled, For Every Idle Silence, a title lifted by admission from a Benjamin Franklin quotation. In that book Hyde summed up in the conclusion of this book what I believe to be true, or at least profoundly hope is true: “We are going to win in the struggle over values. It is becoming culturally fashionable to protect the defenseless unborn. And rightly so.” When so few had the courage in the 1970s to speak up, following the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, Henry Hyde was there. I thank God that he was. I feel like I lost a good friend yesterday. I pray there will be others like him on the near horizon, maybe even my own current congressman, Peter Roskam. He is a man who I hope will follow the lead of this truly marvelous Christian man we say good-bye to in the coming days, Congressman Henry Hyde, my congressman.