Saturday, July 4, 2009

Not Quite "National Treasure"

Happy Independence Day! Princeton is a town steeped in early American history. Not only is it the alma mater of the 4th President of the United States and also the site of a Revolutionary War battle, it served as the nation's capital from June to November 1783.

Just recently Princeton made another addition to the history of early America. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson received a coded message from a regular correspondent at Penn. He was unable to crack it and was so impressed that he considered using it for state business. As far as historians are aware, no one has cracked it.

Enter Princeton resident Lawren Smithline. His neighbor worked at The Papers of Thomas Jefferson project at the University, which is preparing an edition of Jefferson's correspondence and papers and informed him of the cipher.

Smithline solved it.

What lay hidden for over 200 years?

"In Congress, July Fourth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six. A declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. When in the course of human events..."