Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813) handled foreign correspondence as the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the United States (1781-1783).
The newly created Department of Foreign Affairs was not just another name for its predecessor, the Committee for Foreign Affairs.
On 29 November 1775, the Continental Congress set up the Committee of Secret Correspondence for communication with foreign contacts and appointed five members. Before the Declaration of Independence was adopted, its business became less secret and, on 17 April 1777, the committee was renamed the Committee for Foreign Affairs (so called the resolution of the Congress but it was as often called the Committee of Foreign Affairs by Journals and the members themselves). Commissioners and ministers abroad addressed their letters to the Committee or the President of Congress.
Such a standing committee still had a problem of continuity because members often left Congress. The Congress itself was a body of constantly varying membership. James Lovell, who joined the Continental Congress in February 1777 and the Committee for Foreign Affairs in May 1777, was the only member of the Committee to serve without break until its dissolution. Often, he found himself the only active member of the Committee.
In April 1777, the Committee was assigned a secretary in the person of Thomas Paine but he had to resign in January 1779. It was arranged that Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, or his deputies would help the committee when necessary but they had their own commitments and things did not become any easier for Lovell. On 6 August 1779, Lovell wrote to Arthur Lee, "there is no such Thing as a Committee of foreign affairs existing - no Secretary or Clerk - further than I persevere to be one or the other".
It was recognized that a more permanent system was required. In June 1780, a committee of the Congress reported about establishing a department of foreign affairs but it was only in January 1781 that the Congress agreed to replace the Committee for Foreign Affairs with a department under a Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Further, choosing of a secretary was not easy and more than six months passed before Livingston was appointed as the first secretary.
Livingston had been a delegate from New York to Congress in 1775-1776. He was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Congress but he could not sign because he had to leave the Congress to attend the New York Provincial Congress.
In November 1779, Livingston again joined the Continental Congress and was appointed to the Committee of Foreign Affairs.
Livingston, with Lovell and William Houston, signed letters of the Committee at least on 11 December 1779 and 16 June 1780 but his presence in the Committee was shadowed by the hardworking Lovell, who signed many other letters of the Committee in 1780 alone.
Lovell mentioned Livingston's absence on 11 July 1780. At the end of August, Livingston was appointed, with Lovell and some others, to a committee to report a plan for a new arrangement of civil executive departments. But he left Congress in September 1780.
Livingston had used a private cipher with John Jay, who was a minister to the Spanish court from 1779 to 1782. They had been college friends and law partners in New York for some time. When Jay sailed for Spain, he left Livingston a simple substitution cipher. Jay, however, found it too simple and proposed a book code in February 1780. However, Livingston could not obtain the book specified by Jay and he proposed a polyalphabetic cipher XZA in August 1780. A similar polyalphabetic cipher YESCA was a counterproposal from Jay. (For details, see another article.)
Possibly, Livingston learned of polyalphabetic cipher from Lovell.
During Livingston's absence in New York, several codes were introduced in July 1781. Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent of Finances, sent Jay in Spain THE=169' (WE006) and sent Franklin in Paris codes No. 3 and No. 4 (No. 4 is THE=19' (WE008); No. 3 may be THE=167', for which see here). Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, sent Jay THE=332' (WE007). About this time, Morris also provided George Washington with THE=504' (WE011), which he first used in August 1781 (see here).
These codes were prepared on the same printed template.
The template for encoding had some 600 words or syllables printed in 10 columns in the alphabetical order and the template for decoding had numbers 1 to 660 printed in 10 columns. Thus, some 60 words or names not listed in the template could be assigned as fit for the specific occasion.
Such a template simplifies the task of preparing and copying a code. By filling in the blanks in the encoding template with numbers in random order and transcribing the words or syllables of the encoding template to the corresponding entries in the decoding template, a new code can be created with relative ease.
Morris-Jay code THE=169' (WE006) and Morris-Franklin code THE=19' (WE008) were both filled out by Gouverneur Morris (Weber p.80, 111). Gouverneur Morris, who assisted Robert Morris in the Finance Office, was intrigued by numerical symbols and decoded dispatches for the Finance Office and sometimes for the Office for Foreign Affairs (Weber p.110).
The same template had been employed some months before for code THE=278' (WE005), used by John Laurens, who had been sent to Paris in the spring of 1781. (He arrived at the French coast on 9 March and used the code as early as 20 March for writing to the President of Congress.)
Actually, these codes were the first two-part codes used by the American diplomats. Before John Laurens' code (THE=278'/WE005) appeared, Tallmadge's code (THE=625/WE001) (see here) and Dumas-Franklin codes (THE=840/WE003 and THE=873/WE004) (see here) were one-part (i.e., alphabetically ordered) code. American diplomats used a printed template from the very first two-part code. (Note that Palfrey's code lost in December 1780 may have been an earlier use of two-part code. See another article.)
Further, Randolph-Madison code (TH=308/WE012), Madison-Monroe code (TH=432/WE014), Jay-Adams code (THE=82'/WE013), and "Jefferson-Barclay" code (THE=447'/WE021), all having a similar vocabulary, are considered to be based on the same template (see below).
John Laurens' code (THE=278'/WE005) ...Washington Papers|
Morris-Jay code (THE=169'/WE006)...Jay Papers
Thomson-Jay code (THE=332'/WE007)...Jay Papers ID7595, ID7591
Morris-Franklin code (THE=19'/WE008)...While I have been unable to locate this, similarity of vocabulary suggests it also used the same template. Weber confirms that it was "identical to the format of the code Morris sent Jay".(Weber p.110 n.18)
Morris-Washington code (THE=504'/WE011)...Similarity of vocabulary suggests this also used the same template.
Madison-Monroe code (TH=432/WE014)...James Madison Papers (Though the sheet is handwritten, the similarity of vocabulary supports it is based on the same template.)
More than six months after the resolution to establish a department of foreign affairs, Congress appointed Livingston as the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs on 10 August 1781.
Livingston was in the family estate in Clermont, New York, when he received the news from the President of Congress. In his reply of 25 August, he asked for further details and accepted the offer in September. He took office on 20 October 1781. Only a few days before, the Americans had gained a decisive victory at Yorktown and Livingston's first letters to ministers abroad contained first report of the victory.
Livingston took over communications with ministers abroad that had been handled by Lovell almost single-handedly. However, means of secret communication caused one trouble after another.
In the first letter to Jay on 1 November after he took office in October, he used their private YESCA cipher. However, part of the cipher was garbled. Anyway, he only intended to use this until Jay received Thomson's code (THE=332'/WE007).
He wrote his letter of 28 November ("No. 2") to Jay in code. However, he later found that Charles Thomson delivered him a wrong code and he had to enclose a duplicate re-encoded in Thomson's cipher in his letter on 13 December ("No. 3"). After all his trouble, however, Jay reported that the duplicate of Thomson's code he received from Barclay had evident marks of inspection.
When Livingston learned of the "misfortune that happened to Mr. Thomson's cipher", he expressed an intension to provide Jay with a new code in his letter of 9 May 1782. Finding it difficult to send to Jay a code free from inspection, he proposed a slight change in Thomson's code on 6 July.
After Jay joined Franklin in Paris, Livingston used "Doctor Franklin's cipher" (Morris-Franklin code, THE=19', WE008) to Jay from August 1782 to at least January 1783.
(For details, see another article.)
For correspondence with Benjamin Franklin in Paris, Livingston decided to use Morris' code No. 4 (THE=19'/WE008) in December 1781 and added 16 codes in February 1782. However, Franklin preferred a simpler cipher provided by Dumas. (See here for details. For Dumas' cipher, see another article.)
For correspondence with John Adams in Holland, Livingston inherited from Lovell ciphers as well as troubles.
Ever since May 1780, Lovell had occasionally used a polyalphabetic cipher with keyword "CR" for John Adams. Livingston used it in his letters to Adams (20 November 1781) but later realized that Adams had trouble with the cipher. He thus asked assistance of Lovell, who was still in Congress, and enclosed Lovell's explanation. But the explanation did not help Adams because the trouble was caused not by Adams' lack of understanding but by enciphering errors. Adams could not even read significant part of the instructions of June 1781 for peace negotiations and he had to ask Franklin in Paris to send the plaintext. (See here)
William Carmichael, secretary to John Jay in Madrid, wrote to Livingston when he learned his appointment to the office of secretary of foreign affairs and asked if he should continue his correspondence.
Carmichael was one of those who strongly felt the need of use of a code. He mentioned lack of code to Franklin on 25 January 1780 and later repeatedly urged the need to Thomas Jefferson (see here.) It is noted here that Carmichael, secretary to Jay, appears to be asking Livingston to provide him with a separate code from what Jay had. As it happened, Jay mistrusted Carmichael and he did not even let him copy confidential reports and only withheld from accusing him of treason because of lack of hard evidence. (Richard B. Morris, John Jay, p. 770) While Jay and Carmichael once used a book code between them (see here), probably Jay did not share with Carmichael the code he used with the home government.
When Livingston received this, he replied he would send him a code.
In this very month, Livingston introduced a new code, which had polyphonic as well as homophonic properties and vastly extended the vocabulary of a code.
Livingston's new code took shape in the middle of May 1782. However, Robert Morris, who also managed secret communications in the Office of Finance, disapproved of it.
The extension of the vocabulary in the new code was not without expense. Its complexity might have prevented its acceptance had it not been for the delivery problem.
John Adams' complaint of 21 February 1782 about Lovell's cipher reached Livingston after he sealed a letter of 29 May. Next day, he was enclosing a new cipher for Adams in Holland. He also intended it for Francis Dana in Russia and asked Adams to fill up an enclosed blank template and forward it to Dana.
The Livingston-Adams-Dana code more than tripled the vocabulary to 2066 elements. While it had only numbers up to 1011, a single code often represented two or three words or syllables (polyphonic). Further, some high-frequency words were given more than one code (homophonic). For example, "the" could be represented by 7, 858, or 947. Details will be given in conjunction with the Livingston-Washington code below.
As it happened, Adams reported that the code was missing in Livingston's letter.
When Livingston received this, he explained that he had sent Adams three different sets of ciphers instead of duplicate copies. He was aware of the risk that, even if a copy arrived safe, another copy might have fallen in the wrong hands. (For a different view, see Papers of the Winthrops ad the Adamses.)
Only after a year after dispatch, did the code reach Adams.
Adams, however, did not use the code when he wrote from Paris to Livingston about peace negotiations during June and July.
Francis Dana had been sent to Europe in 1779 as a secretary to John Adams. In the summer of 1781, Dana was transferred to St. Petersburg. Young John Quincy Adams, yet 14, accompanied him and served as Dana's secretary and interpreter till the end of October 1782.
Livingston felt he needed some means of secret communication with Dana.
Two months later, Livingston was sending a cipher for Dana.
Livingston mentioned another cipher.
As of 10 May, the code to be enclosed was not ready. The letter of 10 May was submitted to Congress and was returned to Livingston only on 28 May (Livingston to Dana, 29 May 1782). Meanwhile, Livingston sent some provisional cipher on 22 May. While he prepared the Livingston-Adams-Dana code, he did not have time for completing a copy for Dana. Thus, on 30 May, he chose to include a blank template, which he asked Adams to fill out.
While Adams would find that the code was missing, it is not known whether Livingston actually failed to include one or it was taken out in the route.
Dana, on his part, having not received any line from Livingston after the first letter when he took office, still less a cipher, felt difficulty in writing about confidential information.
On 30 August 1782, Dana acknowledged Livingston's letters of 2 March and 22 May. However, Dana was concerned that Livingston's letter might have been inspected by the authority. When Dana had received Livingston's first letter as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he had told Livingston that letters for him could be forwarded by John Adams in Holland (Dana to Livingston, 5 March 1782) but this letter had not reached him.(Livingston to Dana, 18 September 1782)
At least, apparently, Dana received a cipher enclosed in the letter of 22 May. Details of this cipher are not known, since the only letter in which in this cipher was used is now lost. All that is known is that, unlike the Livingston-Adams-Dana code, this was not made on a printed template (Dana to Livingston, 17 April 1783 quoted below), that the Livingston-Adams-Dana code was safer, easier (Livingston to Dana, 7 November 1782 quoted below), and better (Livingston to Dana, 22 May 1782) than this, and that Dana found it "intolerably tedious".
Dana appears to have used the code at least once in his letter to Livingston.
As Dana found Livingston's provisional code "intolerably tedious", however, he prepared an alternative scheme himself.
The cipher to be carried by John Quincy Adams was the WAR cipher (WE031). This was a polyalphabetic cipher with a nonce keyword WAR. The original cipher manuscript states thus: "This being sent to you only because I have probable grounds to suppose yours is in the hands of the Ministry here."
According to the WAR cipher, as in similar polyalphabetic ciphers XZA or YESCA between Livingston and Jay, the 27 letters of the alphabet (plus &) are assigned numbers 1-27 in three different columns (i.e., substitution tables) and the columns are switched for every letter enciphered. In addition, some eighty names or frequently used words (plus 14 places for later additions) are each assigned three codes from 30 to 305. The three codes assigned to each word are not switched regularly as in the cipher portion but either one of the three could be used, since any number 30-305 is assigned to only one plaintext word. A use of this cipher will be noted below.
It is amazing that Dana chose the polyalphabetic system, considering that he had been troubled by Lovell's polyalphabetic cipher (see here). Moreover, Dana trusted John Quincy with another cipher (the WHO cipher, WE030), dated 18 October 1782 [29 October 1782 NS], for John Adams, which was very similar to the WAR cipher. This cipher was sparingly used in Dana to Adams, 1 June 1783, in which "121" stood for "Franklin" and "134.57" stood for "Minister France". (See Wharton, RDCUS. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that while Wharton did not have access to the code, he discerned that these codes meant "Franklin" and "French ministry".)
On 29 September, Dana received duplicates of Livingston's letters of 10, 22, and 29 May but the cipher that should have been enclosed in the letter of 10 May (and probably 22 May) was missing. He thought he now had more reason not to use Livingston's cipher of 22 May than a week before.
Despite the inconvenience and his concern of inspection, Dana did once use Livingston's cipher in his letter No. 8 dated 1 October, which is now lost, though he wrote with "as few words as possible, preserving the substance only, to save unnecessary trouble in ciphering and deciphering."
Meanwhile, unsure of Dana's receipt of a cipher, Livingston again sent one to Dana.
Dana acknowledged this letter on 7 March 1783. However, he was not sure whether it arrived safe and he chose to use the WAR cipher instead of Livingston's.
In this letter, Dana enciphered 8 lines with the WAR cipher. (See here.)
However, although John Quincy Adams left St. Petersburg at the end of October, it took much more time for him to get to Holland.
In sum, Livingston sent Dana a cipher or a code at least on 10 May, 22 May, and 7 November 1782. Of these, the cipher of 10 May is considered to be the Livingston-Adams-Dana code (THE=7/858/947,WE010) made on a printed template. But the only cipher Dana received was that enclosed in the letter of 22 May but the cipher was missing in the duplicate.
In June 1782, one month after sending out the Livingston-Adams-Dana code, Livingston sent George Washington a similar code.
The decoding sheet of this Livingston-Washington code (THE=358/447/507,WE009) has code numbers 1-1000 printed in 10 columns of 100 numbers each. The words and syllables listed in the code table number nearly 2500. Considering the code used at the time had only about 700-element vocabulary, this more than tripled the vocabulary of code.
To represent 2500 words and syllables by 1000 plus code numbers, each code numbers are frequently assigned 2 to 4 "equivocal" words or syllables such as 72 for "she; shed; shew; shewn". According to Livingston's instruction, when more than one word is represented by the same code number, the second word is indicated by drawing two strokes under the code number, and the third word is indicated by drawing three strokes, etc. Livingston was optimistic that this would seldom be necessary except now and then at the beginning of a sentence before the context is sufficiently clear to identify which.
The Livingston-Adams-Dana code (THE=7/858/947,WE010) was a twin to the Livingston-Washington code (THE=358/447/507,WE009) and was prepared on the same printed template. Its code numbers 1-500 and 501-1000 substantially match code numbers 501-1000 and 1-500 in the Livingston-Washington code, respectively. Thus, "Dr. Franklin", "Mr. Morris", "Count de Vergennes", and "Chevalier de la Luzerne" are 70, 73, 122, and 214 in the Livingston-Washington code against 570, 573, 622, and 714 in the Livingston-Adams-Dana code. "Washington", "His Most Christian Majesty" (King of France), and "his Catholic Majesty" (King of Spain) are 523, 526, and 608 in the former but 23, 26, and 108 in the latter.
However, both versions were slightly adapted for their correspondents. Although the encoding sheet had numbers only up to 1000 printed, the Livingston-Washington code had extra codes written in the margin.
1013: General Greene
1014: the Count de Rochambeau
1015: the French Army
1017: the Marquis de la Fayette
These words and syllables are not found in the Livingston-Adams-Dana code. Thus, difficulty would have been encountered when it was necessary to spell a name including an "X". (John Adams would again encounter such a problem when he was given a Jay-Adams code (THE=82',WE013), which did not have a code for "J". While it was not unusual at the time that "I" and "J" were not distinguished, Adams scrupulously reserved the code for "I" and wrote "J" in plaintext as in "125 j 619 402" for "ma-j-est-y"; see my article in Japanese to see an image.)
Numbers above 1000 in the Livingston-Adams-Dana code are as follows.
1003: resolved that
1004: ordered that
1008: Over Yssel
Further, it had its own vocabulary within the basic 1000 codes.
581: The Marquis de Verac
585: The duke of Vauguyon
638: Mr Laurens
654: The Empress [Catherine II of Russia]
676: Count Panin
680: their high Mightinesses
These should be compared to their counterparts in the Livingston-Washington code.
81: the Count de Fl. Blanca
176: resolved that
180: ordered that
Thus, the Livingston-Adams-Dana code displaced "D;Delaware", "bar;barrier", "wh;what;which", "resolved that", and "ordered that" to numbers beyond 1000 and fill those places with its own names and it further added some Dutch-related terms. Somehow, no consideration was paid to the part of the basic vocabulary assigned to the numbers 1001-1012 in the Livingston-Washington code.
This code may have been used in a letter from Washington to Livingston, 14 August 1782. A copy at George Washington Papers bears a marginal note: "The lines marked were put in cypher".
On 18 September 1782, Livingston mentioned to Jay a new code sent by Henry Laurens. The day before, having learned of Laurens's release from the Tower of London, Livingston wrote to him and enclosed some papers. Probably, he enclosed a cipher for Jay in a packet for Laurens because Jay's letters were usually inspected. This Livingston-Jay code required "a little practice" (see the quotation below) and possibly this was similar to the Livingston-Adams-Dana code and the Livingston-Washington code.
However, Laurens could not make it in time. Jay responded to Livingston, "I have neither seen nor heard anything of Mr. Laurens, nor of the cipher you mention to have sent by him." in the postscript to his letter of 17 November 1782. Henry Laurens joined the other peace commissioners in Paris only on 28 November, two days before the preliminary peace was signed .
Before receiving this letter, Livingston reproached Jay for not using cipher in an important letter of 18 September 1782 and again mentioned a new cipher (Part of this letter was still encoded in Morris-Franklin code (WE008)).
But it was hard to get through. Jay wrote six months later:
Around July 1782, Livingston provided some printed templates to James Madison, a delegate from Virginia, who intended to send them to Edmund Randolph in Richmond. Somehow, however, the code the code prepared by Randolph for private communication with Madison (TH=308/WE012) in November 1782 was based on the 660-element template rather than the 1100-element template (see here). (Yet another code, THE=447'/WE021, ascribed by Weber to the one given by Jefferson to Barclay in 1791 is also based on the same template.)
About the often quoted statement by Edmund C. Burnett "Livingston had some forms printed, having on one side of the sheet numbers from 1 to 1700, on the other the alphabetical list of words, syllables, etc." (American Historical Review, XXII, 332), Weber implies 1700 should be 1000 (Weber p.111, n.27), whereas David Kahn attributes to Livingston the printed sheet of numbers up to 1700 used for Jefferson-Madison-Monroe code (THE=812, WE018) (David Kahn, The Codebreakers, p.185) (see another article for background; see Thomas Jefferson Papers for the image of the printed sheet).
Thomas Jefferson came to Philadelphia at the end of 1782. He had been appointed as an additional peace commissioner but his mission was cancelled when the news of the provisional peace treaty arrived.
After coming back to Monticello, Jefferson found "cyphers" he had received from Livingston's or Morris' office and sent them to Madison, asking him to return.
Authorities consider the "cyphers" mentioned in this letter to be Livingston's blank templates. (Weber p.112, n.32; Papers of Thomas Jefferson)
Instead or in addition, it appears that Jefferson returned a cipher from Morris' office. When Jefferson was visiting Philadelphia in preparations for his mission in Paris, Robert Morris of the Office of Finance had given him a code for himself and for John Adams in Holland (Robert Morris to John Adams, 19 January 1785, etc.). It is believed that Jefferson returned the code when his mission was cancelled (Papers of Robert Morris).
Later, Madison, writing from Richmond to Monroe in Trenton, missed such printers who sold sheets with numbered columns. (cf. Weber p.116; Monroe to Madison, 18 December 1784; Madison to Monroe, 8 January 1785)
As with Randolph's code (TH=308/WE012), Madison used the 660-element template in a code (TH=432/WE014) he proposed to James Monroe in April 1785 (see here).
Polyphonicity of "equivocal" terms employed by Livingston's extended codes, such as representing "able", "ably", and "abilities" with a single code "3", was also used in France.
For example, in King Joseph's Code (or Great Paris Cipher as called by Wellington) during the Peninsular Campaign, which was based on a 1200-number diplomatic code in 1750s, "456" represents "attentif,ve,s,tion", meaning "attentif, attentive, attentifs, attentives, or attention". (Mark Urban, The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes, p.136 and plate)
Such poliphonicity appears to be used in a French code used between Marquis de Lafayette and Livingston.
After the victory of Yorktown, Lafayette sailed for France in December 1781 and was received at Versailles on 22 January 1782. Livingston trusted to him a letter of 28 November 1781 to Jay in Madrid but somehow Jay could not receive it. He wrote on 6 February, "There are letters in town brought by the Marquis de la Fayette to France; but I have not yet received a line by or from him." (See here.)
Apparently, Lafayette left Livingston a French code for their correspondence. He used it in letters to Livingston on 30 March 1782, 12 April 1782, and 25 June 1782. This was a relatively small code of some 480 numbers and some sort of polyphonicity was employed. Details will be given in another article.
Livingston resigned in June 1783 to become Chancellor of the state of New York. In that capacity, he administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington at Federal Hall in 1789. He served until 1801, when he was appointed by President Jefferson as minister to France, a post which again required use of codes and ciphers (see here).
Livingston's position as Secretary of Foreign Affairs was filled by John Jay in 1784 after more than a year's vacancy. The code Jay provided to John Adams in London in the beginning of 1785 (Jay-Adams code, THE=82', WE013; see here) was based on the same template of 660 elements as that used for Robert Morris' codes etc.