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Nov 29

Written by: Diana West
Thursday, November 29, 2007 10:13 AM 

  I am sorry to say that Henry Hyde, the former US representative from Illinois, has died at age 83. As a cub reporter, I was given the opportunity to spend some time with this kind, stately and honorable congressman working on a profile. And what a profile--his, I mean: memorably sharp and chiseled.
    Known for one of his earliest achievements, the Hyde Amendment, which in 1976 banned federal funding for abortion, Hyde later took on the leading role as chief House Manager in the impeachment of President Clinton in the late 1990s.  For the solid one-third or so of the nation thoroughly disgusted by the president's  contempt for the law, the principled leadership of Henry Hyde and the other House Managers was an inspiration in very dark days. Here is an excerpt from Hyde's  memorable 1998 speech in support of impeachment:
    Let's be clear. The vote that all of us are asked to cast is, in the final analysis, a vote on the rule of law.
    Now the rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization, for the alternative is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully, at great cost evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.
    We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law, a moral code for a free people, who, having been liberated from bondage, sought in law a means to avoid falling back into the habits of slaves.
    We are the heirs of Roman Law, the first legal system by which peoples of different cultures, languages, races and religions came to live together in a form of political community.
    We are the heirs of the Magna Carta, by which the free men of England began to break the arbitrary and unchecked power of royal absolutism. We're the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development in which the rule of law gradually came to replace royal prerogative as a means for governing a society of free men and women.
    We're the heirs of 1776 and of an epic moment in human affairs, when the founders of this Republic pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors. Think of that -- sacred honor -- to the defense of the rule of law.
    We are the heirs of a hard-fought war between the states, which vindicated the rule of law over the appetites of some for owning others. We are the heirs of the century's great struggles against totalitarianism, in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst tyrannies in human history.
    The phrase "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of 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.
    The rule of law is like a three-legged stool. One leg is an honest judge, the second leg is an ethical bar, and the third is an enforceable oath. All three are indispensable to avoid political collapse.
    In 1838, Abraham Lincoln celebrated the rule of law before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, and linked it to the perpetuation of American liberties and American political institutions. Listen to Lincoln, from 1838: "Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of '76 did to support the Declaration of Independence, so the support of the Constitution and laws, let every American pledge his life, his property and his sacred honor. Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father and to tear the character of his own and his children's liberty.
    "Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in the schools, seminaries, colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls and enforced in the halls of -- in the courts of justice."
    So said Lincoln.
    And so said Hyde.

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