Decoding Revolutionary Correspondence

Armstrong to Madison, 30 August 1808

Code/Cipher: THE=972 (see another article)
Source: Library of Conress, text


This letter from John Armstrong, US minister in France, to James Madison, secretary of state, has an undecoded postscript. The known plaintext of another letter seemingly in the same code (THE=972) (see below) allows identification of some code numbers. Initial letters represneted by some of the other code numbers may be inferred from the partially alphabetical arrangement of the code.

It is said that there are no less than 40 letters in this code preserved in DUSMF ("Dispatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789-1906, 128 rolls. Record Group 59, microcopy 34") R 13 and 14 (Weber p.154, 188, xvi), which would make it realtively straightforward to further this reconstruction.


PS 1394 1116<s> 1273<e...?> 250<o...?> 1165<to> 1405 972<the> 148<c...?> 1459<he> 1482<is> 1201<a> 821<n> 130 821<n> 1429<by> 720<b...?> 970<t...?> and 1482<is> much better 992 1319<li> 1048<f...?> 584 687 249<other> 736<c...?> 1013<di> 750 967 In a word 1459<he> 1482<is> 1202<a...?> 1561<m...?> in general. Next to 927<him> 1090<in> 1052<f...?> 832 1482<is> 934<o> 510<m...?> 860<ly> but 1459<he> 1482<is> 1320<l...??> 384<w...?> 1280<en> 1218<a...?> 1481<ir> 1483<i...?> 555

Armstrong to Madison, 4 May 1806

Sources: Library of Congress, text


The following shows the plaintext represented by each code number of a letter with a known plaintext. The assignments are the present author's conjectures. Some particularly questionable identifications are marked with "*."

It is painful to me to state the following facts, but it is necessary they should be stated.

On the 1st. instant I presented a note in conformity to the instructions contained in your letter of the 13 of March. On the 2d. the subject was opened to 1467<his> 1552<ma> 1083<je> 1116<s> 607<ty> 972<the> 32<Emperor>. "I have" said he "some papers in relation to that business which you have not seen." On the 3d. these papers were given to 972<the> 61<Minister> who found them to consist of maps and charts 1354<of> 972<the> 187<Florida> 1116<s>; many arguments to shew the 1089<im> 659<port> 702<ance> 1354<of> 103<these> 664<pro> 615<vin> 1238<ces> 1165<to> 1467<his> 734<ca> 974<tho> 1319<li> 1230<c> 1553<maj> 798<est> 417<y> 1225<as> 1565<mil> 1484<it> 692<ary> 1217<and> 1337<na*> 1158<val*> 330<station> 1116<s> and 1201<a> 1006<dec> 1490<la> 289<ration> 971<that> 946<on> 1590<no> 803<ac> 465<count> 405<would> 1459<he> 471<con> 1125<sent> 1165<to> 1013<di> 370<vest> 927<him> 1123<self> 1354<of> 973<them> 166<either> 1429<by> 976<sal> 772<e> 1361<or> 249<other> 631<wise>.

On receiving this information my first belief was 971<that> 972<the> 61<minister> 916<had> 927<him> 1123<self> 1538<fo> 619<un> 1001<d> 511<mean> 1116<s> 1165<to> 1554<make> 972<the> 27<difficult> 417<y> 1090<in> 972<the> 1472<hope> 1354<of> 1138<soon> 1080<fin> 1001<d> 1478<ing> 290<reason> 1116<s> 856<suf> 1523<ficient> 860<ly> 988<sub> 985<sta> 821<n> 1161<ti> 817<al> 1064<for> 312<set> 351<tin> 1431<g> 1484<it> 1225<as> 1302<ide>. I therefore answered, that it was with much surprise I heard an objection of this sort 945<on> 972<the> 255<part> 1354<of> 326<Spain> and the more so as 1127<she> 916<had> 983<so> 872<rec> 1284<ent> 860<ly> 541<offer> 1268<ed> 972<the> 187<Florida> 1116<s> as a kind of small change in adjusting an account with an Individual; that though I had not seen the overture to which I alluded, on paper, yet that I was not the less assured that it had an existence of that sort, and that if I had not been much deceived, it might at this moment be found in the Port Folio of Mr. 953<ou> 608<va> 868<rd>.

"This may be" was the reply "but it is not the less true that certain circumstances have produced an 1284<ent> 1481<ir> 772<e> 477<change> 1090<in> 972<the> 1018<dis> 1180<pos> 1484<it> 1480<ion> 1116<s> 1354<of> 326<Spain> 1069<France> 1456<has> 716<been> 1383<rep*> 561<res*> 1284<ent> 1268<ed> 1225<as> 899<us> 380<ur*> 1286<p*> 1594<ing> 1336<over> 1463<her> 1216<an> 1284<ent> 1481<ir> 772<e> 983<so> 112<ver> 786<ei> 1431<g> 844<nty> 1217<and> 1502<even> 1225<as> 669<put> 351<tin> 1431<g> 1463<her> 664<pro> 615<vin> 1238<ces> 1165<to> 976<sal> 772<e> 127<without> 1463<her> 1312<konw> 674<ledge> 1361<or> 470<con> 1125<sent>. Do you know that 1502<even> 410<your> 252<own> 1209<Agent> 1116<s> have not merely insinuated, but asserted this? Do you know that 1334<mis> 968<ter> 794<Er> 629<v> 1594<ing> 1456<has> 5<communicate> 582<(e)d> 1165<to> 972<the> 272<Prince> 1354<of> 256<Peace> 972<the> 470<con> 1046<fi> 1010<dent> 1079<i*> 420<al*> 664<pro> 1373<po> 1129<si> 352<tion> 1116<s> 1354<of> 395<which> 415<you> 390<were> 502<made> 972<the> 1005<de> 1180<pos> 1484<it> 692<ary> 1492<last> 857<sum> 1562<mer> and that they were derived 1547<from> 1334<mis> 968<ter> 723<bo> 383<w> 1020<do> 1090<in> (1225<as> 1484<it> 405<would> 430<appear>) 1064<for> 972<the> 175<ex*> 1177<press*> 1393<purp*> 951<ose*> 1354<of> 1415<be> 1478<ing> 983<so> 5<communicate> 582<(e)d>?

You may readily imagine my confusion and astonishment at this discovery. I had 146<confide> 1001<d> 972<the> 664<pro> 1373<po> 1129<si> 352<tion> 1116<s> 1165<to> 1334<mis> 968<ter> 723<bo> 383<w> 1020<do> 1090<in> 377<under> 972<the> 523<most> 983<so> 1494<le> 501<m> 821<n> 1090<in> 1095<ju> 821<n> 1254<ct> 1480<ion> 1116<s> 1354<of> 1121<se> 1251<cre> 460<cy>. "Whatever" I said "may be your own opinion of them, remember that they are not for either you or myself to adopt or reject; they are now before authorities which are alone competent to do either; Something useful may grow out of them; and as I have received them under the most solemn injunctions of secrecy; you must receive them from me under the same injunctions. Could I believe that 1201<a> 1555<man> 1165<to> 397<whom> 1467<his> 153<country> 916<had> 14<commit> 582<(t)ed> 983<so> 926<high> 1216<an> 1354<of> 1046<fi> 741<ce> 21<could> 983<so> 1533<flag*> 869<re*> 578<nt*> 860<ly> 1156<vi> 934<o> 1313<late> 1201<a> 358<trust> 983<so> 975<sa> 1252<cred>? If this is not a sufficient apology, I have none. How the incident may turn, or what may be itfs influence on the business generally, cannot be exactly foreseen? My hopes are certainly less sanguine than they have been; still there are circumstances in our favor. 972<The> 341<temp> 794<er> 1354<of> 972<the> 32<Emperor> 109<toward> 1116<s> 899<us> 1482<is> 910<particular> 860<ly> 1071<fri> 1282<end> 860<ly> 971<that> 1354<of> 972<the> 61<Minister> 1482<[is]> 1687<not> 1600<less> 983<so> 704<ap> 639<pa*> 560<rent*> 860<ly>.

The frankness with which he has hitherto acted, is a pledge of future sincerity. But how am I to behave to a man who 1456<had> 1411<be> 1186<tra> 417<y> 1268<ed> 529<my> 148<146? confide> 821<n> 741<ce> in the very first step I have taken with him? If I reproach him with it, a rupture ensues, out of which perhaps still greater evils may arise. If, on the other hand, I pass it by without notice, the same want of principle or understanding may lead to some other act, that may be altogether fatal to 1367<our> 236<object> 1116<s>. Nothing can be more embarrassing than my situation. Were there a glimmering hope that the charge is unfounded, there would still be room for some degree of 146<confide> 821<n> 741<ce> 137<between> 899<us>, but this does not exist. 1078<I> 921<have> 529<my> 1123<self> 1121<se> 1280<en> 1201<a> 676<letter> 1547<from> 1334<mis> 968<ter> 794<Er> 629<v> 1594<ing> 1165<to> 1334<mis> 968<ter> 723<bo> 383<w> 1020<do> 1090<in> 985<sta> 351<tin> 1431<g> 988<sub> 985<sta> 821<n> 1161<ti> 817<al> 860<ly> 971<that> 1459<he> 916<had> 1318<let> 972<the> 272<Prince> 1354<of> 256<Peace> 1479<into> 972<the> 308<secret> 1354<of> 972<the> 190<French> 864<pro> 1180<pos> 1484<it> 1480<ion> 1116<s>, and this, sent by the common mail, and every syllable of it in plain English. Was it intended to be read in every post office between 207<Madrid> 1217<and> 254<Paris>? But I forbear to say more on the subject at present, and have the honor to be, Sir, with the highest consideration, Your Most Obedient & very humble Servant.


First posted on 31 August 2015. Last modified on 31 August 2015.
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