first encrypted cable (1866),


first encrypted cable (1866),
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with this letter. The next 624 most frequently used words were encoded by two letters of the alphabet. For example, "ak" was those; "al" was who; and "az" was such. Three letters were used for the remainder of the diplomatic vocabulary and a fourth letter could be added for plurals, participles, and genitives. Seward's reply, written exactly one year after the famous dispatch to Minister Bigelow in Paris, praised the tariff reduction. But Seward regretted that no reductions had been made in previous charges, and he added that the Department was not responsible for the cable sent by the Russian minister because the dispatch was neither signed nor ordered by him.23
On 19 August 1867, a copy of the new code was sent to US envoys serving overseas.19 For security purposes, Seward asked that the code be used with discretion and that the ministers have a small box made that could be fastened with a lock, the key to which should be kept by the head of the legation.
In the ensuing months, a tedious exchange of polite letters between the company and Seward led nowhere. Frustrated by the failure to resolve the issue, the company suggested that the entire matter be referred to the Attorney General for his opinion, which the company was prepared to accept as final.
This novel code, which delighted the thrifty Seward, would be used from August 1867 until 1876. It proved to be a disaster because European and American telegraphers often merged code groups, and dispatches were frequently unread until mailed copies reached the State Department weeks later. Indeed, the first encoded message received at the Department from the American minister in Turkey formed a long string of connected letters and remained a conundrum until finally decrypted by an assistant clerk after days of puzzlement. A similar message from Vienna was never decoded.20 Seward's battle over money with the cable company had as its result, then, a supposedly thrifty but flawed encryption system.21
Two years after the Paris dispatch, and with only three months remaining as Secretary of State, Seward wrote his last letter to the cable company. In one sentence, he explained that he had no authority to make, nor the Attorney General to entertain, an adjudication of the claim.24
Paying Up, Finally
When the new Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, endorsed his predecessor's position, the company finally decided to go to court. On 25 February 1870, the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company filed a petition with the courts requesting that the government pay $32,240.75 in gold coin for the cable messages.25
Lower Tariffs
Meanwhile, the battle over money continued. The telegraph company did not contact Seward again until it had a new tariff schedule that lowered rates by 50 percent. Further, under the new schedule, messages in code carried no extra charges. In notifying Seward of these modifications, Wilson Hunt politely renewed his request for payment of outstanding charges, including the cable sent by the Russian minister and other Department cables. Appealing to Seward's patriotism, Hunt noted that 90 percent of the New York stock was owned by citizens of the US.22
The case was heard before the Chief Justice and Judges of the Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., on 26 May 1971. The Court decided for the claimant in the exact amount requested by the company.26 But the State Department had one victory: payment in gold was not required.27 Finally, on 28 August 1871, almost five years after the cable to Bigelow in Paris, the Comptroller's Office paid the full amount in dollars and cents!28


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:53 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 02:08 PM