By GAIL FINEBERG
Richard C. Hollyday II of Vero Beach, Fla., reached into a cardboard box on a table in the Library office of Diane Kresh, director of Public Service Collections, in July and removed neatly organized, labeled packets of ink-inscribed brown letters addressed to his Blair family ancestors.
"These letters are from [Kentucky statesman] Henry Clay to Francis Preston Blair, my great-great-grandfather," Mr. Hollyday said. "Here are some of my great-grandfather Montgomery Blair's papers pertaining to the Dred Scott case; he was Scott's lawyer and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, before Justice Roger B. Taney.
"Here are some letters to Montgomery Blair from General Sherman, Lew Wallace (a Civil War general and author of the novel, Ben-Hur), my Great Uncle Frank Blair -- he was a Civil War general -- Sen. Charles Sumner, Sen. Thomas Benton, and here's one from James Buchanan to Mrs. Blair," Mr. Hollyday continued.
For some 170 years, these letters, a diary belonging to Francis Preston Blair and other historical treasures had been handed down from one generation of the Blair family to another.
However, this spring, Mr. Hollyday and his sister Edith decided it was time to give their trove to the Library. Not only did the Library already have some 12,000 Blair items on deposit, but his niece, the Library's exhibition conservator Louise K. "Rikki" Condon, had promised that she personally would see to the preservation and care of their gifts.
Said American history specialist Marvin Kranz, of the Manuscript Division, "This will be a marvelous addendum to the Blair papers."
Mr. Hollyday retrieved a file holding more letters, among them correspondence from Gen. Winfield Scott, commanding general of the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War; Stephen A. Douglas, who campaigned against Lincoln; John C. Fremont, nominated in 1856 as the first Republican candidate for president; Martin van Buren, Andrew Jackson's successor to the presidency; John Dix, a Civil War general; Andrew Jackson Jr., the adopted son of Andrew Jackson; and Silas Wright, a senator from New York and Van Buren's campaign manager.
"These are some of the most interesting and important people on the stage of U.S. history between 1820 and the Civil War years," Mr. Kranz said.
As Mr. Kranz described the historical significance of the Blairs and those who wrote to them, familiar Montgomery County place names took on life and new meaning.
"Time stands still at the Library of Congress," remarked Ms. Condon, who as the Library's exhibition conservator has worked in the Conservation Division since 1976.
Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876)
A feisty editor from Kentucky, Francis Preston Blair was invited to Washington by President Andrew Jackson for the purpose of starting a party organ for the Democrats. He founded The Globe, as well as The Congressional Globe -- forerunner of The Congressional Record. He and his partner, John Rives, contracted for Congress's printing business.
Described by Rives as 85 pounds of bones and 22 pounds of "gristle, nerve and brain," Blair became a trusted confidant of Jackson's and served in his unofficial "Kitchen Cabinet."
Mr. Kranz said the Clay letters to Francis Blair are sure to be interesting because of the animosity between Jacksonian Democrats, of whom Blair was one, and Clay during the 1824 presidential election.
That year, Jackson won the popular vote, but because four candidates split the electoral votes and no one received a majority, the three names with the highest totals were sent on to the House of Representatives, where each state had one vote. Clay, who had been eliminated, then threw his support to Quincy Adams. As soon as he was elected, Adams appointed Clay secretary of state, which in those days was the pathway to the presidency, Mr. Kranz said. "So the Jacksonian Democrats accused Clay and Adams of making a 'corrupt bargain,' trading votes for the appointment."
Blair weathered Jackson's descent from power, maintained his lucrative printing business and remained active in politics, supporting Fremont's 1856 Republican nomination, even after he "retired" to his 20-room mansion, Silver Spring, built in 1844 on 1,000 wooded acres seven miles north of town. He aided Lincoln, offering the Union Army commission to Robert E. Lee on the president's behalf and crossing Confederate lines on at least one peace mission.
President Abraham Lincoln was a frequent guest at Silver Spring, and on July 11, 1864, an uninvited guest camped there overnight on his way to Washington with Confederate troops. Only a barrel of whiskey at nearby Falkland, owned by Blair's son, Montgomery, came between Gen. Jubal Early's raiders and a weak Fort Stevens, according to family legend.
Montgomery Blair (1813-1883)
The son of Francis Preston, Montgomery Blair graduated from West Point in 1835, served the Army briefly and resigned to study law in St. Louis, Mo., with Thomas Hart Benton. He became a U.S. attorney for the state of Missouri, mayor of St. Louis, and judge of the Court of Common Pleas.
His St. Louis law practice included work for several railroads and his most famous client, Dred Scott, a slave whose master had moved with him to Missouri, then free territory. Scott tried to sue in federal court to establish his Missouri citizenship and freedom. Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Taney ruled that a slave's status did not change with the territory he lived in. Taney also held that a slave was property; as chattel, Scott had no standing in federal court.
Montgomery Blair moved to Washington in 1852, established his family in Blair House, where his wife graciously entertained Washington's movers and shakers, and joined Lincoln's Cabinet as U.S. postmaster general in 1861. Described as the most learned man in Lincoln's Cabinet, he provided counsel to the president and reformed the Post Office, standardizing rates and service at a savings to the country.
With a moderate view toward reconstruction, Blair so agitated "radical" Republicans that Lincoln eventually asked him to resign.
Montgomery Blair rebuilt his Silver Spring area home, Falkland, which Early's raiders had burned. He became active in Maryland politics and practiced law with his son, Woodbury, who after his father's death in 1883 continued the practice with his brothers Gist and Montgomery Jr.
Included in the papers from the Blair family are some of Montgomery Blair's legal papers dealing with the Dred Scott case and papers relating to the old Globe newspaper.
Mr. Kranz said the people who wrote to Montgomery Blair are so important in American history that their letters are bound to be of interest to scholars. "The importance of the letters is up to scholars to determine," he added.
Still to come are plantation record books from Francis Preston Blair, who was a slaveholder, even though he supported Lincoln.
"That's the sort of material we'd love to get," Mr. Kranz said after Edith Hollyday remarked that they still had these records.
The main body of Blair papers came to the Library as gifts of the family, over periods from 1928 to 1955 and during 1967-69; other gifts and purchases came during 1973-74.
The latest donation came about because of the Condon-Blair connection.
"Rikki and I had worked together for years on exhibition materials," Mr. Kranz recalled. "One day she mentioned her mother was a descendent of the Blairs, and I asked if there were any papers still around. She said she'd ask her uncle."
Ms. Condon said these papers were discovered about 20 years ago in the attic of a Bedford Hills, N.Y., home occupied by her grandmother, Minna Blair Hollyday, Richard Hollyday's mother. Mr. Hollyday took an interest in them, sorted them, and consulted Condon about their care.
Ms. Condon said she is thrilled to be able to care for these papers at the Library. "The Blairs served the nation their whole lives and that's certainly something to be proud of," she said. "They gave so much to the country and I want people to know about them. It also means a lot to me to know these papers will be well preserved at the Library of Congress."
Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter. Adrianne Nash, an intern in The Gazette office, contributed to this report.