Jesse Helms Awarded Heritage Foundation’s “Highest Honor” for Service to U.S.

Conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, 86, a truly great American and champion of freedom, died at 1:15 a.m. today. Helms, who gave our country three decades of service as a U.S. senator from North Carolina, was ill in recent years.

Heritage President Ed Feulner (pictured at right with Helms and his wife Dorothy) presented Helms in 2002 with the Clare Boothe Luce Award, Heritage’s highest honor, calling him a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle.”

In response to today’s sad news, Feulner offered this statement:

Jesse Helms was one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. Along with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, he helped establish the conservative movement and became a powerful voice for free markets and free people. The defeat of Soviet communism and the rise of Ronald Reagan would not have happened without his intrepid leadership at decisive times.

July 4, 2008, like July 4, 1826, and July 4, 1831, will long be remembered as a very special day in the history of American independence. On the Fourth of July 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died. On the Fourth of July 1831, James Monroe died. On the Fourth of July 2008, another great American patriot, Jesse Helms, died.

He was the longest serving U.S. senator from North Carolina and a great friend to The Heritage Foundation. Although America has lost a great Patriot, his legacy will live on.

UPDATE — 12:28 p.m.: Reflections on Helms’ life are pouring in. Ben Domenech has written a wonderful post on RedState, and I’ve offered a few thoughts on my personal blog.

UPDATE — 6:40 p.m.: Heritage’s Ed Meese, former U.S. attorney general in the Reagan administration, offered these remarks in remembrance of Helms.

Jesse Helms was a great patriot and a true friend. His strong personal support of Ronald Reagan, both in the campaigns of 1976 and 1980 and in the Senate during the President’s two terms, was a critical element of the success of our 40th President.

Senator Helms was well known for his love of country and for his innate decency, honor, and courtliness. He respected others, including those with whom he disagreed, and, in return, was respected by them. His example of civility and courtesy should be a model for future generations of legislators, just as his fidelity to the Constitution and First Principles of our nation should inspire all our citizens.

We will miss Senator Helms, but we should treasure his memory and be grateful for his outstanding career of distinguished service.