Since every letter in the coded message is represented by
several different numbers, it is one of the most difficult ciphers to break.
In the case of Cipher Number Two, cracked by James Ward,
Thomas Beale first composed his message, then took the Declaration of
Independence and numbered off the words, starting with 1 (when) and ending with
Pauline Innis, with map,
is one of many with theories.
He substituted each letter of his original text with a number
of a word in the Declaration beginning with that letter. Since there are only 26
letters in the alphabet, there were plenty of extra equivalents, which Beale
chose to use at random.
For example, in the opening lines of Cipher Number Two, the
letter E is enciphered by the numbers 49, 7, 79 and 31.
For an educated gentleman like Beale to be an expert
cryptographer was not unusual. In those days waylaying other people's mail was
common practice. To ensure privacy, people created their personal ciphers based
on common books of the day.
Thirty years before Beale supposedly devised his devilish
codes, Thomas Jefferson had invented a cipher wheel that was so brilliantly
conceived that a similar one was used by the American military early in World
By dividing a cylinder into wheels, each marked with the 26
letters of the alphabet, he could scramble messages in thousands of different
According to Professor Ralph E. Weber, author of the recently
published book U.S. Diplomatic Codes and Ciphers, today's historians are
frustrated by the coded segments of old documents, letters and diaries which,
like the Beale ciphers, cannot be cracked because the keys are lost. "Some
of these messages could have real historical significance," says Weber.
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