July 8, 2008 | Commentary on
Champion of Freedom
Independence Day 2008 -- like July 4, 1826, and July 4, 1831 --
will long be remembered as a very special day in the history of
On the Fourth of July in 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson --
Founding Fathers and presidents -- both died. On the Fourth of July
in 1831 James Monroe died. And on the Fourth of July 2008, another
great American patriot -- Jesse Helms -- passed away at the age of
Starting in 1972, Helms served for 30 years in the Senate. He was
a staunch conservative voice during a restive time in American
politics. Helms proudly earned the nickname "Senator No" because he
was adept at using the Senate's rules to block bad
Helms wasn't afraid to stand alone for what was right, even if his
opinion wasn't always in line with that of his fellow elected
officials. "I did not come to Washington to win a popularity
contest," he noted once while filibustering a bill. He did
come to Washington to win policy disputes, and usually
One way he did so was to slow down the legislative process when
other lawmakers were racing to pass a bad measure. Time, after all,
often showed Helms had been right all along.
For example, during the 1990s Helms led the fight to reduce the
amount the U.S. paid to support the United Nations. Even though
Washington provided an astounding 25 percent of the U.N.'s budget,
bureaucrats at the world body wanted ever more, and diplomats
around the globe accused the U.S. of being stingy.
Helms insisted that our share of the U.N. budget be reduced, and
also demanded that it undertake vital reforms. Because of his hard
work and willingness to stand alone, the U.S. reached a compromise
and the U.N. was forced to (slightly) pare back its free-spending
ways and deal with some of its shortcomings.
Throughout his career, Helms also worked to bring his conservative
ideas to a national stage.
He also was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan. During the 1976
primaries, Reagan's candidacy was struggling against incumbent
Gerald Ford. But Helms threw his support behind Reagan, and worked
to put the state of North Carolina in the Reagan camp.
That surprising upset victory energized Reagan's campaign, giving
him enough momentum to remain in the race all the way to the party
convention and setting the stage for his eventual nomination in
In 1984, with conservative ideas on the rise nationwide, Helms
explained the source of his conservative views.
"I came up between the two world wars during the Depression," he
told reporters. "All the people around me emphasized working and
savings and personal responsibility. They spelled out in one way or
another the uniqueness of America. This has largely been lost.
Nobody would have thought of turning to the government to solve all
During three decades of national service, Jesse Helms did as much
as anyone could to put America back on the right path -- the path
he remembered from his youth and the path that made our country
great. Upon his retirement from the Senate in 2002, the Heritage
Foundation was proud to award the senator our highest honor, the
Clare Boothe Luce Award, for his service to our country.
His leadership will be missed, but his legacy will live on as long
as Americans celebrate Independence Day.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage
First appeared in National Review Online