The last great archives of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency may soon be available to researchers and the public _ 14 boxes of handwritten notes, gifts and correspondence, including a letter from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini congratulating him on his 1933 inauguration.
The House on Monday approved a bill to clear the way for the memorabilia to be donated to Roosevelt's presidential library and museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.
While the House bill is identical to legislation the Senate passed in October, it will still have to return to the Senate for one more vote before it goes to the president.
The boxes have been sitting sealed at Roosevelt's presidential library since July 2005, tied up in an ownership dispute between the government and a private collector.
Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Louise Slaughter _ both Democrats from New York _ promoted bills that would make clear the government has no claim to the papers. This would allow the donor to claim the full tax deduction for turning the collection over to the library.
The National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees presidential libraries, has said it owns some of the documents in the collection, which was amassed by Roosevelt's secretary, Grace Tully.
Specifically, the Archives claimed it already owned Roosevelt's notes to Tully that he attached on White House memos and correspondence. "That's the interesting part of the collection for researchers," said Cynthia Koch, the presidential library and museum's director.
The Sun-Times Media Group Inc., formerly Hollinger International Inc., bought the collection in 2001 for $8 million and wants to give all of it to the library, Schumer's office said. But because the National Archives has claimed ownership to some of the materials on behalf of the government, the company cannot get the full tax benefit it says it's due.
Schumer said the legislation offers a fair solution.
"The FDR library will now have one of the most valuable private collections of FDR papers in its hands, and the former owners will get a fair tax deduction for their generous donation," Schumer said when the Senate passed the legislation.
Slaughter said passage of the bill will "provide unique insight into the life of one of our nation's greatest presidents."
Koch said the collection features about 5,000 documents, including 110 letters to Roosevelt with his own notes of response written on them. Tully also kept letters Roosevelt received from Cabinet officials and dignitaries.
Other items were personal to Tully, such as photos, books and other gifts from the president and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She also saved letters the first lady sent her regarding family matters.
Some materials are pieces a secretary might normally throw out, Koch said. "However, Ms. Tully kept them, so they have great historical significance."
"It's really the last great archives from the Roosevelt era that's been in private hands," Koch said. "It represents his close working relationship with his personal secretary, so it is immensely important to see his close thinking in his own hand on a whole range of issues that came before him."
Archivists haven't been able to take a complete inventory.
Tully started working for Roosevelt during his campaign for New York governor in 1928. She followed him to the White House, where she served as a secretary. She took over as his personal secretary in 1941, a post she held until he died in 1945.
Tully held on to the artifacts until her own death in 1984, according to Schumer's office and the Roosevelt library. She willed the papers and memorabilia to her family. The collection passed through several private owners before Hollinger bought it from a rare book dealer.
The bills are S.692 and H.R.1506
On the Net:
FDR Presidential Library and Museum: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/