A happy, extroverted man with a commanding presence and an unfailing gift of gab, Henry J. Hyde spent three decades in the thick of some of Capitol Hill's biggest fights.

Just two years into his first House term, the obscure Illinois Republican became an instant household name in June 1976 when he offered an amendment to ban the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. He later steered the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Hyde died Thursday at age 83, only weeks after President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony that he was too ill to attend.

This fine man believed in the power of freedom, and he was a tireless champion of the weak and forgotten, Bush said Thursday. He used his talents to build a more hopeful America and promote a culture of life.

Hyde, who retired in January, underwent open-heart surgery in July. He died in his sleep early Thursday at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said hospital spokeswoman Mary Ann Schultz. She said he had been admitted Sunday for persistent renal failure related to his cardiac condition.

Hyde, a devout Roman Catholic, sealed his reputation as a conservative with his opposition to abortion.

Unlike most conservatives, though, he was adept at compromise and cloakroom bargaining. He sometimes put loyalty to the Republican Party and Republican presidents before conservative philosophy when they collided.

If you took the whole mosaic of legislative things in which he was involved, I would not characterize him as an ideologue, former House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., said Thursday. He was a pragmatist and a doer. He wanted to get things done and make things go.

For Hyde, however, compromise ended when it came to the teachings of the church. He scorned what he called cafeteria Catholics, who decided which of the church's rules they would obey.

He was the old Catholic; he didn't mix and match, anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler said Thursday. He had a clear view of right and wrong. He saw abortion as an absolute evil, the taking of human life.

Even Democrats were quick to praise Hyde as word of his death spread.

Henry Hyde was a credit to public service and to the House of Representatives, said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He practiced the old-school values like civility, which help make the legislative process work. And he knew how to defuse a difficult situation with humor.

Hyde was a throwback to a different era, genuinely liked by his opponents for his wit, charm and fairness. But he could infuriate them.

The Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortions became a fixture in the annual spending debate; Hyde also was a leader in passing the ban on so-called partial birth abortions.

The people we pretend to defend, the powerless, those who cannot escape, who cannot rise up in the streets, these are the ones that ought to be protected by the law, he said during the 2003 debate.

While abortion was an issue Hyde pursued as a matter of conscience, Clinton's impeachment was thrust upon him.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he led House efforts to impeach Clinton in 1998 for allegedly lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and in 1999 was the chief House manager in the unsuccessful bid to win a Senate conviction.

Hyde's own reputation was tarnished when an online magazine revealed he'd had an affair with a married woman some 30 years before, when he was in his early 40s. Hyde brushed it off as a youthful indiscretion.

He presented the impeachment charges despite the certainty that the Senate would reject them, calling it a matter of principle.

All a congressman ever gets to take with him when he leaves is the esteem of his colleagues and constituents, Hyde said in his closing argument. And we have risked that for a principle, for our duty as we have seen it.

The congressman had one serious brush with scandal. He was among 12 former directors and officers of the Clyde Federal Savings and Loan of North Riverside, Ill., sued by federal regulators after the institution's 1990 failure, which cost taxpayers an estimated $68 million.

Hyde, who had left the S&L's board in 1984, insisted he did nothing wrong and was the only director who refused to contribute to an $850,000 settlement of the lawsuit.

Hyde was born in Chicago on April 18, 1924, where he was an all-city basketball center. After serving in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, seeing combat in the Philippines, he graduated from Georgetown University in 1947 and returned to Chicago to earn a law degree from Loyola in 1949.

Raised a Democrat, he switched parties to vote for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. He worked as a Chicago trial lawyer before winning a seat in the Illinois House in 1966 and then in the U.S. House in 1974.

But he has also on occasion parted ways with his conservative colleagues: He strongly opposed a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress, and supported the Family and Medical Leave Act. He has also voted to ban certain types of assault weapons.

In the 1990s he joined the Clinton administration in opposing the 1973 War Powers Resolution, an act restricting the president's authority to engage troops overseas that some GOP lawmakers sought to invoke to protest military operations in Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia.

He backed President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. But he said he was troubled from the outset that the war lacked enough support from the international community.

Right now, I think it's a question of saving as much honor as we can, he said in an interview. But I am afraid it is Vietnam again.

Hyde's survivors include four children and four grandchildren. His wife of 45 years, Jeanne Simpson Hyde, died in 1992. He recently remarried Judy Wolverton of Illinois, state Republican officials said.