Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Madison Code? I think we need another movie….

So everyone has been all excited over the Da Vinci code so I thought I’d provide a presidential version! James Madison (with many of his political buddies) had his own personal code. Madison was always worried that “unauthorized” people would read his correspondence (i.e., the British, the French, political enemies at home…). His first ciphers were designed by James Lovell, a Continental Congress delegate who was also an expert on ciphers.

From the site:
On July 5, 1782, Edmund Randolph wrote to James Madison: "I wish, that on future occasions of speaking of individuals we may use the cypher, which we were taught by Mr. Lovell. Let the keyword be the name of the negro boy, who used to wait on our common friend." Madison noted at the bottom of Randolph's letter, "Probably CUPID." He added, "I have been in some pain from the danger incident to the cypher we now use. The enemy I am told have in some instances published their intercepted cyphers."

Madison also sometimes just used a secret seal in place of the time-consuming codes. Madison and some of cohorts continued to worry about interception of their letters though and in the 1780s, Madison and Monroe used 600-element nomenclator for their correspondence. So what is a nomenclator? A nomenclator is a list with numbers keyed to the same number of words or parts of words (elements) in a random pattern and then used as their substitutes in an encoded message. (from the site) This eventually grew to a 1500-element system! Later Jefferson and Madison used a 1700-element system when Jefferson was Minister to France (they seem to be getting better at it as well as more paranoid! Sort of reminds you of email encryption doesn't it?). For awhile after Jefferson returned from France, he and Madison quit using ciphers in their letters, but went back to the practice in the 1790s when politics took a nasty turn again.

A great example of their use of this code is Jefferson to Madison, January 31, 1783. If you go check out the site, you will see many more examples from the James Madison Papers.

So if you thought worry about intercepted correspondence was limited to our modern government and email, you can see they have always worried about unauthorized readers!

3 comments:

Michael said...

Actually, Madison and many of the founding fathers were Masons who were keeping the secret of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail safe. Both were in the possession of the original revolutionaries and it was the desire to protect these artifacts which prompted the formation of the USA.

Secret and evil elements within the British East India Company were in actuality members of the Illuminati and only an independent American republic could keep the artifacts safe from them.

Ergo, Madison and others had to use a code to keep the secret safe. In fact, the use of the code is proof that what I described above is real! Further, the fake translations of the documents supposedly using the deciphering code is further proof. The original messages remain a secret.

What the world neeeds is a small band of librarians who will investigate, find the truth, and risk the wrath of the modern day conspirators!

OK, this is a start. Can I get credit on the screenplay if the Madison Code is ever made into a movie? :]

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

That's a great start to another "code" movie, Michael. Good Job.

This code stuff would really interest the kidlets in my classroom!

Jennie W said...

You are missing one important element though for it to work...you would have to tie it to the Kennedy assassination! I mean what great movie involving plots and US presidents doesn't tie to Kennedy? So you could have it that the real reason Kennedy was shot was an attempt to get the secret...