How best to remember Henry Hyde? With his own words.
As I wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times column, the best of Henry Hyde is perhaps one of the great speeches in the history of Congress: His Jan. 16, 1999 closing argument in support of the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.
It is, I wrote in 1999,
a gift to the people of the United States. It should be read, savored and preserved by all who love liberty and justice. It is the most eloquent dissent of this or any recent decade against the disintegration of the American community, a place where dedication to principle, respect for the law and the rights of the powerless against assaults by the mighty once were revered as high political virtue.The speech is worth reading in its entirety. It can be found here.
Hyde spoke of the “covenant” that Clinton himself espoused early in his term, that the presidency was a solemn pact of mutual trust and obligation with the American people. Said Hyde: “Trust—not what James Madison called the parchment barriers of laws—is the fundamental bond between the people and their elected representatives; between those who govern and those who are governed. Trust is the mortar that secures the foundations of the American house of freedom…
“We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly and painfully, and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies…The rule of law is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good.”
What remains today, I wrote then, after the Senate acquitted Clinton, were Senators, who in turning their backs on the rule of law for the sake of personal preservation, partisan interest and public popularity, are mere echoes of a handful of people who loved their country more than themselves. The kind of people that John F. Kennedy wrote about in his Profiles in Courage.