Why should anyone outside Washington care if senators are made to shut up already?
Because, he said: "The uniquely American concept of the independent individual, asserting his or her own views, proclaiming personal dignity through the courage of free speech will, forever, have been blighted.
Not to mention: "And the American spirit, that stubborn, feisty, contrarian, and glorious urge to loudly disagree, and proclaim, despite all opposition, what is honest and true, will be sorely manacled."
Byrd's desk in the Senate was draped in black cloth with a bowl of white roses on Monday. Flags at the White House and the U.S. Capitol, as well as across West Virginia, were lowered to half-staff.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, 85 years old and in his eighth term, was sworn in to replace Byrd in the mostly honorary position of president pro tempore of the Senate.
Colleagues in the Senate remembered Byrd for unusual traits.
"He could drive from Washington to West Virginia and back again, reciting classic poetry the entire time, and not repeat the same poem twice," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday.
"He twice read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover, from A to Z," Reid added.
"He was the only American to earn his law degree while serving as a member of Congress."
Byrd elevated any matter on his radar to paramount passion. He doggedly defended coal, not just as a source of jobs but also as a chunk of his people's soul. Whether it was his opposition to the presidential pork-cutting line item veto or the war, the future of the republic always seemed to hang in the balance.
"How long -- how long, O Lord, how long?" he demanded two years ago in one of his many speeches opposing the Iraq war. "Four thousand, eighty-one American soldiers have died. Died! One can only die once."
In 2007, needing two crutches to walk, Byrd thundered again, near tears. The frail old man startled those in the public gallery with the ferocity he summoned.
"Let that word resound from hill to hill and from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley across this broad land," he exclaimed. "May God help those poor souls who would be so cruel. Barbaric! Hear me! I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people."
The subject: quarterback Michael Vick's dogfighting ring.Byrd had a passion for dogs, too.