Weird numbers and letters at the end of sections in a newspaper

At the end of each section in this newspaper ( are weird numbers and/or letters. For example, at the end of the

ADRIAN H. MULLER Auctioneer.


section there is the line

1623,26,28. M1, 4, 8, 9, 10 (1168)

And at the end of the section directly above it, there is the line

(1859) mh8 10 ts

What do these lines mean?

Weird numbers and letters at the end of sections in a newspaper - History

Kent P. Jackson, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David R. Seely, “Chapters, Verses, Punctuation, Spelling, and Italics,” in The King James Bible and the Restoration, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 95–117.

Kent P. Jackson is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He received a BA in ancient studies from BYU and an MA and PhD in Near Eastern studies from the University of Michigan. He is the author of books and articles on ancient and modern scriptures, Latter-day Saint history, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.

Frank F. Judd Jr. is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He received a BA and MA in ancient Near Eastern studies from Brigham Young University and an MA and PhD in New Testament studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests include early scribes and manuscripts of the New Testament.

David Rolph Seely is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He received his BA in Greek and an MA in classics from Brigham Young University and an MA and PhD in Near Eastern studies from the University of Michigan. He is a member of the international team of editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and specializes in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and temple studies.

The Bible is a huge book—containing 766,137 words in English. And yet the modern reader can instantly find and turn to any particular passage in this massive book by following the data given in a simple formulaic reference such as Matthew 7:7. From this reference, a reader knows to turn to the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 7, where the reader finds the passage, “Seek, and ye shall find.” But this system was not part of the original texts of the Bible. The book divisions occur from the fact that the Bible is a collection of many different books the divisions into paragraphs, chapters, and verses are all artificial and were done centuries after the texts were written.

The English word Bible is derived from a Greek word, biblia, meaning “books,” reflecting the fact that is a collection. Many books were written in antiquity that were considered sacred by various groups in various places and at different times. Whereas there is much scholarship that deals with the canonization of the books of the Bible, there is little if any explicit information from the earliest historical circumstances of why and how certain ancient books were preserved and considered as canonical or standard works. [1] At some point in ancient times, a collection of those books was made that eventually became what we call the Old Testament. One of the earliest examples we have of such a collection is the plates of brass from 600 BC, which contained the books of Moses, a history of Israel, a collection of prophetic books, and genealogy (see 1 Nephi 5:10–14). Early Jews thought of the Bible as a collection of three different kinds of material, as reflected by the fact that Jesus spoke of “the law of Moses, and the prophets and the psalms” (Luke 24:44).

The earliest list of the thirty-nine specific books of the Old Testament is from the end of the first century AD and records that those books were originally found on twenty-four scrolls—because several of the smaller books could fit onto a single scroll. [2] Because the texts were written on separate scrolls, there was little need to organize them in any particular order. But there was a sense that the Bible contained three types of books and that, just as on the plates of brass, the Law or Torah (the five books of Moses) had preeminence. The rabbis and Jesus often referred to the Old Testament collection of books as the Law and the Prophets. The Jewish canon established a tradition that organized the books according to the three categories: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. The Christian canon, preserved in all Christian Bibles to the present, followed a slightly different order, with historical books (Genesis through Esther), poetic books (Job to Song of Solomon), and prophetic books divided between the Major Prophets (longer books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel), and the twelve Minor Prophets from Hosea through Malachi. [3]

Just as in the case of the Old Testament, we know very little about the process by which twenty-seven of the many ancient Christian books came to be considered as scripture. The earliest canonical list is the Muratorian Canon, from the late second or third century AD, which lists most of the books that make up the New Testament today, and in a similar order. It appears that the New Testament came about as a compilation of three different collections: a collection of four Gospels, a collection of fourteen epistles of Paul, and a collection of seven epistles from other church leaders, completed with the addition of two texts: the Acts and Revelation.

From the various Gospels that circulated anciently, the church by the middle of the second century had accepted four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The book of Acts was inserted between the Gospels and the letters to provide a link between the life of Jesus and the ministries of the Apostles and history of the early Church. The fourteen Pauline epistles were eventually organized more or less by length from the longest to the shortest—from Romans to Philemon—followed by Hebrews because early Christians were uncertain about its authorship. The seven other surviving epistles were added, followed by the book of Revelation.

Divisions of the texts in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament have their own history and can be treated separately. [4] It was only when the Christian Bible combined the two Testaments, and especially as the Bible was translated into various languages, that the texts were treated similarly, and a uniform system of numbered chapters and verses was superimposed upon the text that survives to the present time. Because the earliest surviving texts of the Bible date from centuries after the original authors, no one knows the nature of the original divisions. From what is known about the history of the divisions of the texts in the various manuscript traditions, three simple necessities can be identified that motivated the gradual creation of various units and later the systems of numbering those units. First, there was a need to identify and isolate specific units that could be read in worship services in the synagogue or the church. Second, the need occurred to provide a simple way of referring to a specific passage in the Bible to facilitate preaching, teaching, study, discussion, and debate. Finally, both Jewish and Christian scholars created concordances of the language of the Bible—and small numbered divisions of the text were almost a necessity for such concordances.

The oldest surviving Hebrew Old Testament texts are among the Dead Sea Scrolls, found beginning in 1947 in the caves at Qumran—the earliest dating to about 250 BC. These scrolls were written with pen and ink on pieces of leather that were sewn together to form scrolls. The Hebrew text was written in horizontal lines reading from right to left, in columns that were also read from right to left, and the scribes usually left slight spaces between the words. The system of division attested in these earliest biblical texts is neither chapters nor verses but paragraphs according to thematic or sense units.

The system of division into paragraphs was preserved in the Jewish tradition and eventually became part of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (see below). The logic of paragraph divisions can be illustrated by several examples. In the Hebrew text of the Creation story in Genesis 1:1–2:3, the text is divided into seven paragraphs coinciding with the seven days of creation. Within historical narrative, the paragraph divisions occur dividing a story into episodes. Thus 1 Samuel 1 is divided into five episodes tracing the life of Hannah and the birth of Samuel, and Isaiah 1 is divided into six paragraphs of varying lengths that indicate different topics. Paragraph divisions thus dramatically illustrate the episodic nature of biblical narrative and help the reader see the basic sense units of the text.

In addition to the division of the text into paragraph units, the Jewish tradition also developed a system of dividing the Torah into fifty-four larger units, each consisting of many paragraphs called parashoth. Those divisions provided suitable units to be read in the synagogue each Sabbath, with the intent that the whole of the Torah could be read in a calendar year. Each of those sections received a title based on the first word or words of the passage, but they were not numbered. The titles provided a label as a point of reference for teachers and students in the discussion of a text. The whole of the Hebrew Bible, except for the Psalms, is divided into paragraphs, but only the Torah is divided into parashoth.

The division into verses preceded the division into chapters. Within the paragraph divisions, Jewish scribes in the Mishnaic period (AD 70–200) developed a system of dividing the biblical text into verse units which roughly coincided with sentences. In addition to ordering the text for easier study, the verse divisions had a function in the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. Because it was customary to read a section of the Bible in the original Hebrew and then stop and translate the passage into Aramaic, verses provided convenient places for the reader to stop and allow the interpreter to speak. [5] Just as with the paragraphs and parashoth, the scribes did not number those verses.

About AD 500, a group of rabbinic Jewish scribes and scholars, called the Masoretes, saw that the text of the Bible as it was being transmitted began to show signs of changing through the years. The Masoretes standardized the Hebrew text by developing a system to write vowels, formalized word divisions, developed a set of accents to indicate ancient traditions of reciting the text, created concordances, counted all of the paragraphs, words, and letters, and inserted notes of explanation, references, and statistics in the margins and at the end of the texts in order to help future scribes. Their work is called the Masoretic Text. It became the model for all future scribal copying and the standard Bible for most Jews in the world to the present day.

Elements of the paragraph and verse divisions that were preserved in the Masoretic Text were later superimposed in various ways on the texts of the Greek and Latin translations of the Bible that were used by Christians. The King James translators had access to the Masoretic Text and implemented in their translation the original Jewish system of verse divisions together with the system of numbering that they had inherited from other Christian Bible editions and translations. Following the model of the Hebrew paragraph divisions, the KJV translators or editors also created a system of paragraph markers throughout the Old Testament (¶) that most often parallels the divisions found in the Hebrew Bible.

As with the Old Testament, we do not have any original New Testament texts. But we do have very early textual evidence of the New Testament from the beginning of the second century, and those earliest manuscripts were written in the tradition of Greek texts of their day, in all capital letters (uncial script), with no division between the words or sections (scriptio continua). [6] While the modern reader may be bewildered by a text that has no apparent breaks, [7] ancient Greek has a set of rhetorical particles that indicate natural pauses and breaks in the text. Most New Testament texts were written on parchment or papyrus, and by the second century they began to be written in codices (books with leaves bound together—singular, codex) rather than on scrolls. [8]

Just as in the Hebrew tradition, the first system of division in the New Testament text was the paragraph, which naturally followed the rhetorical and grammatical particles in the text. One of the earliest systems of division in the New Testament is attested in the great Greek Bible manuscript Vaticanus, from the fourth century AD. In Vaticanus the scribes used a system in which the text was divided into sections corresponding to the break in sense. Those divisions were called in Greek kephalaia, which means “heads,” or “principals.” They were named and numbered in the margins and are the first attested form of a sort of chapter division in the New Testament. In Vaticanus, for example, the Gospel of Matthew was divided into 170 such units—62 in Mark, 152 in Luke, and 50 in John. The kephalaia were much smaller in length than the present-day chapters and are much closer to the paragraphs. In other Greek manuscripts, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation were similarly divided into chapters and smaller sections. [9]

As they did with the Old Testament, the King James translators indicated paragraph divisions in the New Testament with paragraph markers (¶). Often, but not always, their paragraph divisions coincide with ancient chapter divisions known from early manuscripts, but for some reason that mystifies scholars to the present day, they end at Acts 20:36. [10]

At the same time the kephalaia divisions in the New Testament were being made, rudimentary smaller divisions, indicated by simple forms of punctuation (sixth–eighth centuries), were beginning to be marked in the Greek texts that would eventually be reflected in the chapter and verse divisions after the thirteenth century.

Eventually the Christians developed a need for a more precise way of citing scriptural passages for the Old and New Testaments, especially in the creation of concordances. The Christians incorporated in their biblical texts the Jewish paragraph and verse divisions of the Old Testament and the medieval chapter system of the New Testament.

The creator of the system of chapters that is used to the present time was Stephen Langton (1150–1228), a professor of theology in Paris and later the archbishop of Canterbury. [11] Langton introduced his chapter numbers into the Latin Bible—the Vulgate—in 1205, from which they were transferred in the ensuing centuries to Hebrew manuscripts and printings of the Old Testament, as well as to Greek manuscripts and printed editions of the New Testament.

The system of verse divisions that has prevailed to the present was the work of a Parisian book printer, Robert Estienne (Latinized as Stephanus 1503–59). In the printing of his fourth edition of the Greek New Testament in 1551, he added his complete system of numbered verses for the first time. For the Old Testament, Stephanus adopted the verse divisions already present in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, and within Langton’s chapters he assigned numbers to the verses. Following his own sense of logic as to the sense of the text, Stephanus took it upon himself, also within the framework of Langton’s chapters, to divide and number the verses in the New Testament. His son reported that he did this work as he regularly traveled between Paris and Lyon. Whereas he probably did much of the work in the overnight stays at the inns, his detractors spread the story that he did it while riding on his horse, and they attributed what they thought to be unfortunate verse divisions to slips of the pen when the horse stumbled. In 1555 Stephanus published the Latin Vulgate—the first whole Bible divided into numbered chapters and verses. Soon those divisions became standard in the printed editions of the scriptures in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and eventually in all of the modern languages. The first English Bible to have the numbered chapters and verses of Langton and Stephanus was the Geneva Bible in 1560.

Some have criticized Stephanus’s verse divisions as seeming arbitrary, citing the fact that while they often coincide with a single sentence in English, sometimes they include several sentences, sometimes they divide a single sentence, and sometimes they separate direct quotations from the situation of the speaker. They almost always divide paragraphs into fragments and cut up complete thoughts (e.g., Luke 2:5, 31). But clearly the advantages of organizing the text for reading and finding passages far outweigh any disadvantages. Following the style of the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles, the King James translators created a new and separate paragraph for each verse by indenting the first word and capitalizing the first letter of the first word, even if it is in the middle of a sentence. For the casual reader, this can provide a rather serious obstacle, giving the false impression that the Bible is composed of a collection of disconnected sentences and phrases and making it difficult to see and understand any particular verse in its larger context. Consequently, a conscientious reader of the King James Version should always make a concentrated effort to see the bigger context of any particular verse of scripture, being aware that the chapter and verse divisions are artificial and subjective additions to the text that should not constrain us in the interpretation of the Bible. Most modern Bible translations preserve Stephanus’s verses but do not create separate paragraphs for each verse, dividing the chapters instead into paragraphs based on the internal content of the scriptural text.

The earliest manuscripts of the Old Testament contained no punctuation. The Masoretes, working about a millennium after most of the original writers, formalized a system of punctuation that included sentence-ending marks and various marks within sentences to show major and minor breaks. The evidence suggests that in some cases the Masoretes may have made mistakes in sentence division, but on the whole they did an extraordinarily good job, and their work was a profound accomplishment. When the translators and editors of the King James Bible and its predecessors applied European punctuation, in most cases they honored the Masoretic sentence endings, because they kept the verse divisions of Stephanus from the previous century. Thus sentences in the King James Old Testament almost always end where sentences end in the Masoretic Text. But within sentences, the English translators frequently subdivided the text differently.

In New Testament manuscripts, there was a special kind of “punctuation” for words that were deemed sacred. Christian scribes and copyists tended to abbreviate, or more precisely contract, certain sacred names. Whenever the names God and Jesus occurred, just to give two examples, these names were not written out in full but were regularly shortened to just the first and last letters with a stroke above them (e.g., G¯D¯ = “God,” J¯S¯ = “Jesus”). [12] This was not done to save space but rather because such names were regarded as endowed with some degree of holiness and were consequently revered. This practice may have been influenced by earlier Jewish scribal practices in the Hebrew Bible, where the name of God, Yahweh, was sometimes set off with a different script.

Rudimentary punctuation marks began to appear gradually in the sixth and seventh centuries, usually indicating breaks in sentences. It was not until the seventh century that marks for breathing and accents began to appear, and it was not until the ninth century that the continuous writing in the texts began to be broken into individual words.

The texts of the manuscripts Sinaiticus and Vaticanus contain a system of punctuation as indicated by a single point of ink on the level of the tops of the letters, or occasionally by a small break in the continuous letters, or by a slightly larger letter, to indicate a pause in the sense of the text—a break that usually corresponds with a sentence. Later New Testament manuscripts from the sixth and seventh centuries developed a more complex system of marks, usually made by dots indicating a pause, a half-stop, and a full stop, and later a mark of interrogation, corresponding to the English usage of a comma, semi-colon, period, and question mark. Occasionally there were slight spaces between words to indicate a break in the sense. Ninth-century manuscripts show that the scribes began to insert breaks between the words in their texts, and punctuation marks were more frequently put at the end of words rather than above the letters as before. It should be noted that any markings or spaces added to the original continuous writing of the earliest New Testament manuscripts involved a subjective act of interpretation by the scribe. There is evidence of ancient scribal disagreement in terms of punctuation and even word divisions. In addition, later scribes often went back and inserted marks of punctuation above the lines of earlier manuscripts (as in the case of Vaticanus) to reflect their own interpretations.

Therefore, the Greek texts used by the translators of the Bible into English, including Tyndale and the King James translators, already contained systems of word division, punctuation, breathings, and accents that certainly influenced the way the texts were interpreted and translated. The translators of each different English version had the ancient markings and divisions before them, but they variously punctuated their translations according to their understanding and interpretation of the text. [13]

The 1611 King James Bible was published by the firm of Robert Barker of London. Barker’s family had been in the printing business for decades, and he had the distinction of being “Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie,” as is noted on the Bible’s title page. With that designation, his company held the new Bible’s franchise (sometimes with partners) into the 1630s, when the concession went to other printers, most often university presses. The origin of the punctuation in the 1611 KJV is not well understood. In large part it was determined by the translators, based on the Hebrew and Greek texts, earlier English versions, and the current usage of the time. But it likely also contains much influence from editors in Barker’s shop. The punctuation in the 1611 edition was not done very consistently. Readers today are often surprised to learn that the punctuation in our current KJV differs in thousands of places from that of the 1611 first edition. Note the following example from Matthew 26:47–48, with the 1611 text (left) compared with the text of the 1979 Latter-day Saint edition (right):

47 And while he yet spake, loe, Judas one of the twelue came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staues from the chiefe Priests and Elders of the people.

48 Now he that betrayed him, gaue them a signe, saying, Whomsoever I shall kisse, that same is he, hold him fast.

47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.

48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.

Usually punctuation differences are inconsequential, but sometimes they affect the meaning. Note Acts 27:18, which also has a word difference, a spelling difference, and an italic difference:

18 And being exceedingly tossed with a tempest the next day, they lightened the ship:

18 And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship

The edition of 1612 made punctuation changes, and every printing thereafter for a century and a half made more. Each printing house that published the Bible modified the punctuation in some way in virtually every edition, and thus of the numerous editions between 1611 and the late eighteenth century, none were identical. Mathew Carey, an American printer of the early 1800s, noted that the punctuation differences between various Bibles were “innumerable.” He gave as an example Genesis 26:8, which had “eight commas in the Edinburgh, six in the Oxford, and only three in the Cambridge and London editions.” [14] Benjamin Blayney’s Oxford edition of 1769 made many punctuation changes, adding to the work of earlier editors. [15] Because it eventually became the standard KJV text, Blayney’s punctuation remains with us today.

Absent in the King James translation are quotation marks, which did not appear commonly until long after 1611. Capital letters are used to show where a quotation begins, but the end of a quotation can only be determined from the context. That is not always easy, as is seen in Genesis 18:13–14: “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord?” [16]

The punctuation in today’s KJV is generally systematic and quite consistently done. It uses periods to end sentences, colons and semicolons for major breaks within sentences, and commas for smaller breaks. On the whole, the colons, semicolons, and commas seem to have been applied according to the objectives of the translators and later editors, not necessarily with the intent of reflecting the punctuation in the Hebrew and Greek texts.

By today’s standards—and even by the standards of 1611 and 1769—the King James Version often feels overpunctuated, and readers sometimes find themselves tripping over its many tiny clauses that interrupt the flow of the text and occasionally make the meaning less clear. The punctuation is one of the features of the KJV that make it feel old. But this is neither unexpected nor accidental it was intended to be that way. When the translation was originally published and “Appointed to be read in Churches” (1611 title page), its creators filled it with punctuation, believing that the congregational reading for which it was primarily intended would be enhanced by the short clauses, each set apart by a pause. Had they known that the Bible’s greatest use would eventually be with families in private homes, perhaps they would have done otherwise.

The printing of the Bible in English contributed greatly to the standardization of English spelling. In Tyndale’s day, there was much variety in spelling, and indeed Tyndale’s own publications showed considerable inconsistency while at the same time contributing to establishing spelling norms. Early in the next century, when the King James translation appeared, English spelling was still in flux, and it differed in many instances from the spelling in use today, as can be seen in the comparison of the 1611 KJV of Isaiah 29:13–14 (left) and the LDS Blayney edition (right).

13 Wherefore the LORD faid, Forafmuch as this people draw neere mee with their mouth, and with their lips doe honour me, but haue remoued their heart farre from me, and their feare towards mee is taught by the precept of men:

14 Therefore behold, I will proceed to do a maruellous worke amongft this people, euen a maruellous work and a wonder: for the wifedome of their wifemen fhall perifh, and the vnderftanding of their prudent men fhall be hid.

13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

14Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

Spelling conventions evolved rapidly in the seventeenth century, as is reflected in early printings of the KJV. Barker’s 1611 first edition has the spellings “publique” (Matthew 1:19), “musicke” (Luke 15:25), and “heretike” (Titus 3:10), with three separate spellings for the same grammatical ending. Within a few decades, all of those were standardized to “-ick.” Today it would be “-ic.” At 1 Timothy 4:16 the 1611 edition reads, “Take heed unto thy selfe.” Barker’s 1630 edition uses “heede,” and his edition of only four years later uses “heed” again. His edition of 1639 changes “selfe” to “self,” but the spelling “thyself” (one word) was not standardized until the mid-eighteenth century. Spelling in the KJV began changing as early as in the second impression of 1611. It continued to evolve in later printings, but inconsistently in the hands of various publishers, who clearly had the intent to keep its spelling current with the times. It was not until Blayney’s edition of 1769 that publishers considered the spelling standard and finalized (although not entirely consistent), when today’s King James spelling was set in place. [17] Thus our current Bible has words and grammar from before 1611 but spelling from 1769.

How biblical names were spelled in English evolved over the centuries until the 1611 King James translation, when the spellings of most names were fixed. The 1611 printing had some inconsistencies (including the spelling of Mary as “Marie” in several places in Luke 1), but most variants were standardized by the 1629 Cambridge edition. [18] The spelling of names in the KJV is heavily influenced by the Latin Vulgate, and in many cases the spellings are far removed from how the ancient people actually pronounced their own names. Some examples include Isaac, pronounced anciently “Yitz-haq” (Geneva, Izhák Bishops’, Isahac) Isaiah, “Ye-sha-ya-hu” John, “Yo-ha-nan” James, “Ya-a-qov” and Jesus, “Ye-shu-a.” [19]

The spelling of the Lord’s name in the KJV Old Testament is a special case. The divine name that is written “the Lord” in today’s King James translation is spelled with four letters in Hebrew—y h w h. It probably was pronounced Yahweh in ancient times. [20] The form of the name that is familiar to us is Jehovah, with spelling and pronunciation brought into English by William Tyndale in the early 1500s. [21] After the end of the Old Testament period, Jews and then Christians adopted a custom, based perhaps on an exaggerated reading of Exodus 20:7, that it was blasphemous to pronounce God’s name. So in the place of Yahweh they used substitute words. As they read their Hebrew texts, when they came upon God’s name they would not pronounce it but substituted in its place the word ’?d?n?y, which means “my Lord(s).” Greek-speaking Jewish translators in the third century BC replaced the divine name with the common Greek noun kyrios, “lord.” Most modern translations have continued the custom. In the King James translation, whenever God’s name Yahweh appears in the Hebrew text, the translators have rendered it as “the Lord.” [22] Capital and small capital letters are used to set the divine name apart from the common English noun lord. In the 1611 KJV, however, it appears that this system was not yet fully worked out until the printing was under way. In Genesis, all capital letters were used for the divine name. Beginning with Exodus, the large and small capital letters were used.

Readers of a 1611 King James Bible will also notice some differences that are not technically spelling differences but changes in the nature of some of the letters of the alphabet. The lowercase s looks much like today’s f, and the letters u and v were considered one letter. In the 1611 printing, v is used at the beginning of words, and u is used in other positions. In the black-letter example on the previous page (Isaiah 29:13–14), we have examples of the lowercase s, and we have remoued and vnderstanding for removed and understanding.

The use of italics in today’s King James Bible has an interesting but complex history. [23] The practice of using different type within a text for various reasons seems to have begun in the early part of the sixteenth century. During the years 1534–35, Sebastian Münster and Pierre Robert Olivetan—who printed Latin and French translations of the Bible, respectively—were two of the earliest individuals to indicate by means of a different type words in the translation not represented precisely in the exemplar. The first English Bible to follow this practice was the Great Bible, which was printed in 1539 under the editorship of Miles Coverdale, who made use of both Münster’s Latin and Olivetan’s French translations. In this English translation, which was printed in black-letter type, Coverdale employed both brackets and a smaller font to indicate variant readings from the Latin Vulgate which were not in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts.

William Whittingham’s 1557 Geneva edition of the New Testament was printed in roman type and was the first English translation to use italic type for words not in the manuscripts. In his preface, he noted that he inserted those words “in such letters as may easily be discerned from the common text.” [24] Three years later, Whittingham and other Protestant scholars at Geneva published the entire Bible in English—the Geneva Bible. Geneva’s preface stated the following: “[When] the necessity of the sentence required anything to be added (for such is the grace and propriety of the Hebrew and Greek tongues, that it cannot but either by circumlocution, or by adding the verb or some word be [understood] of them that are not well practiced therein) we have put it in the text with another kind of letter, that it may easily be discerned from the common letter.” [25] The 1560 Geneva Bible, printed in roman type, was the first edition of the entire Bible in English that used italics. In 1568 the Bishops’ Bible followed the Geneva Bible in this practice, except that because it was printed in a black-letter type, the added words were printed in roman type. [26]

Like the Bishops’ Bible, the 1611 King James Bible was printed in black-letter type and used a smaller roman font for words not represented in the original languages, as in this example from Genesis 1:12 in the 1611 KJV (left) and the current Blayney text (right).

12 And the earth brought foorth grasse, and herbe yielding seed after his kinde, and the tree yeelding fruit, whose seed was in it self, after his kinde : and God saw that it was good.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

In 1618 the Synod of Dort explained some of the rules used for translating the KJV: “That words which it was anywhere necessary to insert into the text to complete the meaning were to be distinguished by another type, small roman.” [27] Later editions of the KJV printed in roman type, including the LDS edition, have followed the lead of the Geneva Bible in using italics for those words not represented in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts.

Some important observations should be made concerning italics in the King James translation. First, the primary use of italics is to identify words not explicitly found in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts that are necessary in English to make the translation understandable. There are a number of examples of these elliptical constructions. Most instances of italics in the Bible are for the verb “to be” (for example, “I am the Lord thy God,” Isaiah 51:15). Italics were often used to supply unexpressed but implied nouns (for example, “the dry land,” Genesis 1:9, 10), possessive adjectives (for example, “his hand,” Matthew 8:3), and other verbs (for example, “his tongue loosed,” Luke 1:64). Sometimes, in Greek conditional sentences, the subordinate clause (or protasis) is expressed, while the main clause (or apodosis) is implied. A noteworthy example is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.” In this case, the subordinate clause of the condition is “except there come a falling away first,” and the implied main clause, added in italics, is “for that day shall not come.” [28]

Second, a closer look at italics in the KJV reveals other uses, besides supplying unexpressed but implied words. [29] Some italics indicate that the words are poorly attested among the ancient manuscripts. An example of this is at John 8:7: “Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.” The phrase “as though he heard them not” was not in a different type in the 1611 edition, but it was placed in italics in later editions, including the LDS edition. In this case, the Greek phrase is not in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, and subsequent editors of the KJV indicated their uncertainty about its authenticity by placing the words in italics. [30]

Another interesting example of this usage is at 1 John 2:23: “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” Since the 1611 edition, the KJV has set apart the phrase “but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also” in special type. The Greek phrase is in the earliest manuscripts but absent from many important later manuscripts. Because the words “hath the Father” precede and end the phrase, it seems that a scribe’s eye inadvertently skipped from one instance of “hath the Father” to the other and accidentally omitted the phrase. [31] Thus, even though the phrase is not in many later manuscripts, it does seem to be original. Because the KJV translators did not have access to the early manuscripts which have this reading, the italics in 1 John 2:23 may be indicating that the phrase comes from the Latin Vulgate, similar to the practice of the Great Bible. [32] The famous Johannine Comma of 1 John 5:7–8 (“in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth”) is not in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century nor in any Latin manuscript before the fourth century. [33] Yet this phrase does not appear in special type in the 1611 edition, nor in italics in the 1979 LDS edition. The phrase was placed in italics in the Cambridge 1873 edition and in subsequent editions based upon it. [34]

Third, there are many inconsistencies in the use of italics in the King James translation. The original KJV translators seem to have been fairly conservative in their use of italics, but their 1611 edition contained numerous inconsistencies, many of which continue today. For example, Hebrews 3:3 states, “this man,” while the same construction in Hebrews 8:3 is rendered, “this man.” [35] Over the years, editors greatly expanded the practice of using italics, a process that continued until Blayney in 1769, who added many to the text. For instance, John 11 in the 1611 edition contains no italicized words, but in a 1638 edition it has fifteen italicized words, and in a 1756 edition it has sixteen. [36] The same chapter in the 1979 LDS edition has nineteen italicized words. [37] Note the example from John 11:41, in 1611 (left) and our current text (right):

41 Then they tooke away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lift vp his eyes, and said, Father, I thanke thee that thou hast heard me.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

Concerning this increased use of italics in later editions, F. H. A. Scrivener concluded, “The effect was rather to add to than to diminish the manifest inconsistencies.” [38] In today’s edition, types of words that are italicized in one location are not necessarily italicized in another. For example, Acts 13:6 has “whose name was Bar-jesus,” while the same construction in Luke 24:18 is rendered, “whose name was Cleopas.” There is sometimes inconsistency within the same verse. Luke 1:27 contains both “a man whose name was Joseph” and “the virgin’s name was Mary.” [39]

Although the translators and editors were not consistent in their use of italics, “it appears that generally, though not always, their judgment was justified in their choice of italicized words.” [40] The question remains, however, whether italicized words in the Bible are really necessary at all. [41] One scholar has proposed that “it is impossible to make any message in one language say exactly what a corresponding message says in any other,” and because the words rendered in italics are necessary to make the English understandable, “they are not extraneous additions but are a legitimate part of the translation and need not be singled out for special notice.” That is the case because the primary goal of any translator is “to transmit the meaning of the message, not to reproduce the form of the words.” [42] With that in mind, publishers of the Bible in modern languages have abandoned the custom of using italics, and the King James Version is now almost unique in employing them.

In recent years, despite a general decrease in Bible reading in the Western world, there has been an increased interest in the fascinating history of the English Bible and the King James Version. [43] Although it is no longer the most widely used or the most influential Bible translation in English, the KJV is still in print and still sells well.

In 2005 the venerable Cambridge University Press published a new edition of the KJV that may eventually become the most important edition since Benjamin Blayney’s of 1769. Cambridge University Press, the oldest printing establishment in the world, has been publishing the English Bible since 1591 and the King James Version since 1629. It is the press that prepared the text and set the type for the English Latter-day Saint edition that is still in use today. In the same spirit that led to the recent restorations of Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Cambridge’s editor, David Norton, cautiously removed most of the well-meaning but often misguided “repairs” of earlier editors to restore the KJV more fully to the text and intent of its 1611 creators. Where justifiable, the grammatical changes and word choices of the post-1611 editors were peeled back to reveal the grammar and words of the original. The original intent of keeping the KJV’s spelling contemporary was applied, so the new edition is now standardized to modern spelling. The punctuation was taken back to the system of 1611 but simplified and made consistent, and quotation marks were added. All the italics were removed. Poetic sections were reformatted to reflect the poetic intent of the ancient prophets and psalmists, instead of prose, and the separate paragraphs for each verse were replaced with paragraphs based on the Bible’s content. [44] Thus, despite the fact that the King James Bible is now four hundred years old, it is still very much alive.

Like the Prophet Joseph Smith, we Latter-day Saints believe the Bible “as it came from the pen of the original writers.” [45] Modern languages, like English, were not part of the Bible “as it came from the pen of the original writers,” nor were the chapters, verses, punctuation, spelling, and italics that we see in printings of the Bible today. But because very few Latter-day Saints can read the languages in which the Bible was first written or have access to the earliest manuscripts, we need those medieval and modern tools that translators, scholars, editors, and printers have provided over the centuries that deliver the word of God to us on the printed page. Together, they were all designed to help us better read and understand the scriptures—to help us seek, that we may find (see Matthew 7:7).

[1] For information about the process of canonization, see “Canon” in the Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the Bible. For a broad overview, see F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988).

[2] See 4 Esdras 14:44–46 and Josephus, Against Apion 1.38–42.

[3] For the sake of brevity, we will not deal here with the Apocrypha. See “Apocrypha” in the Bible Dictionary in the LDS Bible and also C. Wilfred Griggs, “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:55–56.

[4] Basic information on the writing and divisions of the Old Testament text can be found in Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 1–44. For the New Testament, see Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1–51. For illustrations of biblical texts, see also Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

[5] The Mishnah (ca. AD 200), in Megillah 4.4, already speaks of verses and specifies how many verses the reader may read in Hebrew before the interpreter translates into Aramaic

[6] Since the text was completely written in capital letters in scriptio continua, that is, without word spacing, the continuous nature of the text could sometimes cause the reader to misread, if he did not divide the words correctly. To give an oft-used example, if the following phrase is written scriptio continua, it can be interpreted in ways which have very different meanings: GODISNOWHERE. One reading could be GOD IS NOW HERE, another could be GOD IS NOWHERE, which has a very different sense. One can therefore see how someone reading a text in scriptio continua might occasionally misread a verse.

[7] Sometimes a scribe would leave a short break after a passage or insert a horizontal stroke in the margin to mark a sense division in the text, although such reading aids are rare. Additionally, two dots were often placed over certain vowels (most often iota and upsilon) to denote when they were not to be read as part of a diphthong so as to help the reader make sense of potentially ambiguous places in the text.

[8] See Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 12–13.

[9] See Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 34–36.

[10] Metzger and Ehrman note that the paragraph divisions end in Sinaiticus in Acts 15 (Text of the New Testament, 34).

[11] Langton was famous in English history for his role in encouraging King John to agree to the terms of the Magna Carta in 1215.

[12] In total, almost twenty different words were regularly contracted in early New Testament manuscripts: man, king, David, Isaiah, God, Jerusalem, Jesus, Israel, world, Lord, Moses, heaven, father, spirit, cross, Savior, son, and Christ.

[13] See Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th ed., ed. Edward Miller (London, 1894), repr. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 1:48–49.

[14] Mathew Carey, “Autobiography of Mathew Carey,” New England Magazine 6 (January–May 1834): 232 Carey, “Preface” in his 1801 quarto Bible. The 1611 edition had only four commas in Genesis 26:8, and the Latter-day Saint edition has six.

[15] See David Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 153–55.

[16] Modern quotation marks would render the passage as follows: And the Lord said unto Abraham, “Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

[17] See Norton, Textual History, 62–114.

[18] See Norton, Textual History, 84–85.

[19] Neither Hebrew nor Greek has a “J” sound.

[20] See David Noel Freedman and M. P. O’Connor, “YHWH,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. David E. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 5:500–21. Variations in the name include Yah, Yaw, and Yahu.

[21] Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch is the earliest attestation of Jehovah in print in English. See David Daniell, William Tyndale, A Biography (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), 284–85. See also “Jehovah” in Tyndale’s “A Table Expounding Certain Words,” following Genesis in his 1530 Pentateuch, in Daniell, ed., Tyndale’s Old Testament: Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Joshua to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 82.

[22] In four exceptions it is rendered “JEHOVAH” because of special emphasis given to the name in the text (see Exodus 6:3 Psalm 83:18 Isaiah 12:2 26:4).

[23] For more on the history of italics, see Dewey M. Beegle, God’s Word into English (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 112–19 Jack Lewis, “Italics in English Bible Translation,” in The Living and Active Word of God: Studies in Honor of Samuel J. Schultz, ed. Morris Inch and Ronald Youngblood (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 255–66 and Walter F. Specht, “The Use of Italics in English Versions of the New Testament,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 6 (1968): 88–93.

[24] Alfred W. Pollard, ed., Records of the English Bible (London: Oxford University Press, 1911), 276–77, spelling modernized.

[25] Pollard, Records of the English Bible, 281–82 spelling modernized.

[26] Some editions followed the Great Bible in printing added words in small black-letter type and with brackets.

[27] Pollard, Records of the English Bible, 339.

[28] See F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 166 and Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 418.

[29] For more examples of different types of italicized words in the KJV, see John Eadie, The English Bible (London: Macmillan, 1876), 2:280–87 Scrivener, Authorized Edition, 64–71 and Specht, “Use of Italics,” 93–96.

[30] See Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 415 Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 184–85 and Specht, “Use of Italics,” 94.

[31] See Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 641 and Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (New York: Doubleday, 1982), 354.

[32] The 1611 edition rendered the phrase in small roman type but did not place the word but in brackets. The brackets in the 1979 LDS edition seem to be a way that later editions of the KJV drew attention to the fact that among those manuscripts that have the phrase, the word but is absent in the Latin and the Greek but is supplied in the English to connect the phrase to the first clause in 1 John 2:23.

[33] See Metzger, Textual Commentary, 647–49.

[34] See Scrivener, Authorized Edition, 69.

[35] For more examples from the 1611 edition, see Scrivener, Authorized Edition, 69–71.

[36] See also Eadie, English Bible, 280.

[37] Specht concluded, “In 1769, the Oxford edition by Benjamin Blayney made more corrections and further extended the use of italics, probably beyond the limits that the original famous 47 revisers would have approved.” Specht, “Use of Italics,” 92.

[38] Scrivener, Authorized Edition, 71.

[39] For more on inconsistencies, see Eadie, English Bible, 280–87 Lewis, “Italics in English Bible Translations,” 267–69 and Specht, “Use of Italics,” 96–102.

[40] Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the Bible, 708.

[41] Early LDS Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, seem to have viewed the use of italics in the Bible with suspicion. See pages 202–4 in this volume.

[42] William L. Wonderly, “What about Italics?” Bible Translator 6 (1956): 114, 116.

[43] From time to time, modern facsimiles of the 1611 edition have been made available, including The Holy Bible, 1611 (Columbus, OH: Vintage Archives, 2000). This is a photographic reproduction of an original 1611 edition. Some other “facsimile” editions are actually modern books in which the type has been reset and the text is in roman type rather than in the original black-letter type. The following three publications all appear to have been made from an 1833 roman-type printing of the 1611 text: The Holy Bible: 1611 Edition King James Version (Nashville: Nelson, [1982]) The Holy Bible, 1611 Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005) and The Holy Bible Quatercentenary Edition: An Exact Reprint in Roman Type Page for Page, Line for Line, and Letter for Letter of the King James Version Published in the Year 1611 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[44] The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) and The Bible: King James Version with the Apocrypha, Edited with an Introduction by David Norton (London and New York: Penguin Classics, 2006). See Norton, Textual History, 131–64, 198–361.

[45] Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 256.

A letter from George Saunders, author of Pastoralia and Tenth Of December

September 30, 2013
Oneonta, NY, USA

Interesting to think that words on a page can create a disturbance in a brain thousands of miles or hundreds of years away. How does that work? If I write: “first kiss please pause to remember the taste/smell phenomenon associated with that event, especially the pleasant ones that still have the power to make you happy,” and you do pause & remember – why does that work? Or maybe I say: “fresh-cut grass on a summer day.” If you feel something, then it is my brain activity (over here, in the US) that caused it. Suddenly we are in direct connection, mind to mind. We have just established, by implication, that both of us (you, there, in England, say) & me here in my writing shed in Oneonta, New York (door open, dog at my feet, on a clear fall day on which the quality of light is so clean that it has all day been landing on the autumnal woods in a way that makes a person just want to stand there & stare), have each, at one time, experienced a first kiss. And that the effects of those two experiences were not so very different. And that my experience (which occurred in 1974!, in a 1969 Camaro, parked at the edge of a golf course in Midlothian, Illinois, USA) was similar enough to yours (and how about yours, by the way?) to evoke what us New Agers might call a “shared emotional space”. No matter how old you are, or how old I was at the time of writing (54, & thanks for asking), or how alive you are, or how dead I am, and even if that phrase re the kiss or the grass had to be translated before you could read it – there we were just now, lovingly regarding the same human experience, our brains encouraged, by words, to jump through roughly the same hoop. And we were somehow expanded by that. You now believe more fully in my existence and I in yours. We think more highly of one another. And we think better of everyone else, too. It seems more likely to us now that other people actually exist. We have experienced a brief elimination of what we might call the “I/Other” boundary. Soon enough (yes, yes) that boundary springs back into place, and we are merely ourselves again, believing ourselves separate from everything else. But for that brief moment, our understanding of our relation to the greater world was correct.

Jon McGregor is the author of If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things his new novel, Reservoir 13, will be published next April by Fourth Estate. The Letters Page, Volume 1 is published (as a letter-filled box) by Book Ex Machina at £25.75.

D.B. Cooper Letter Offers Startling Coded Clue That Might Reveal Skyjacker

“Sirs, I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be caught,” the letter begins.

Postmarked Dec. 11, 1971, it was signed, “D.B. Cooper,” the name the press had given to the unknown criminal who, less than a month before the missive landed at several newspaper offices, had audaciously taken over Northwest Orient Flight 305 out of Portland. The skyjacker parachuted from the Boeing 727 with $200,000 in ransom -- and disappeared. The mystery man quickly became a legend, the subject of folk songs, books and a hit Hollywood movie.

Now, more than 45 years after the crime, independent investigators believe they’ve caught D.B. Cooper. That is, they believe they’ve identified who he really is -- thanks to that taunting letter.

If only they could get the FBI interested.

The 40-member private investigative outfit concluded long ago that the famed skyjacker is former U.S. Army paratrooper Robert W. Rackstraw, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who’s now 74 and lives in the San Diego area. But the FBI, which investigated Rackstraw in the late ’70s, has taken little interest in the voluminous circumstantial evidence put forward by the group.

Documentary filmmaker Thomas J. Colbert, who leads the Cooper investigative team, is convinced the FBI refuses to pursue Rackstraw again at this late date because it would have to admit that a bunch of part-time, volunteer sleuths had cracked a case that the bureau couldn’t.

“It’s not that they’re concerned about a circumstantial case,” Colbert says. “This is obviously about embarrassment and shame.”

The FBI, for its part, offers a different assessment. After considering hundreds of suspects over four decades, it decided to officially close the unsolved D.B. Cooper case in July 2016 “because there isn’t anything new out there,” Special Agent in Charge Frank Montoya, Jr., said at the time.

Eighteen months later, there’s something new. Colbert believes a member of his team has broken a clever encrypted code from the skyjacker that’s embedded in that Dec. 11, 1971, letter.

The FBI still isn’t biting -- it isn’t even responding to Colbert anymore, or offering the press anything but public-relations boilerplate about being open to new hard evidence. So, Colbert says, “we’re moving ahead without them.”

Colbert is convinced he has the right man. The TV producer and former “Hard Copy” story editor has spent nearly a decade digging into Rackstraw’s past. He and his team of retired law-enforcement officers have interviewed their suspect’s family members, former colleagues, friends and military commanders. The portrait that’s emerged of Rackstraw is that of a conman and sociopath who’s talented, charismatic, violent -- and has a lot of possible links to the Northwest Orient skyjacking.

Colbert collected his evidence into a 2016 book, “The Last Master Outlaw.” He’s produced a History Channel documentary about his investigation, “D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?” and is working on another. (Rackstraw, who did not respond to phone calls for this article, has threatened to sue Colbert, but so far has not done so.) Colbert, with a laugh, admits he’s become obsessed with the Cooper case, continuing the investigation far longer than he ever planned. Some of his team’s work is available at

Veteran journalist Bruce Smith, author of “D.B. Cooper and the FBI: A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking,” says Colbert’s reporting and research are impressive, but he worries that the TV producer became too focused on Rackstraw, leading him to “fit the facts” to his theory rather than following the evidence with an open mind.

Colbert’s case against Rackstraw, for example, is dependent on the skyjacker wearing a toupee and heavy makeup to make him look older, something that hasn’t been established. (Rackstraw was 28 in 1971 the well-known wanted posters of D.B. Cooper show a middle-aged man.) Tina Mucklow, the flight attendant who sat next to Cooper for hours during Flight 305, did not pick out Rackstraw from a series of mugshots some years later. Colbert insists the press-shy Mucklow suffers from memory loss related to post-traumatic stress.

But now Colbert has come upon perhaps the most interesting -- and most revealing -- piece of evidence yet: the Dec. 11, 1971, letter, which the FBI released last November after a Freedom of Information Act request by Colbert’s team.

In the month following the skyjacking, a handful of letters from “D.B. Cooper” were sent to various newspapers (including The Oregonian). The FBI’s investigators tended to view the notes as hoaxes, but the Dec. 11 letter -- which went to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times and the Washington Post -- was different.

Agents seized every copy. “They showed up at the (newspaper) offices and said, essentially, ‘Do your duty and hand them over,’” Colbert says. “And the newspapers did. It was a different time.”

This letter, noted one FBI internal case report from December 1971, “had the Bureau somewhat excited.”

The reason: the letter offered up details of the Northwest Airlines hijacking case that hadn’t made it into press reports, such as the fact that the FBI was not able to glean any useable fingerprints from the plane.

Agents carefully combed through the Dec. 11 letter: the writer’s claims that he wore a toupee and “putty makeup” and “left no fingerprints,” as well as the admission of feeling “hate, turmoil, hunger and more hate.” (Colbert says this “hate” was Rackstraw’s anger at being booted from the military for lying and other transgressions.)

Then there are the seemingly random strings of numbers and letters at the bottom of the page. The bureau’s investigators didn’t know what to make of them. In a Dec. 15, 1971, internal case memo, the FBI laboratory wrote of one of the sequences: “The significance of the number ‘717171634*’, appearing next to the copy count in the lower left corner on the face of the letter, remains unknown.”

It has remained unknown for 46 years -- until, quite possibly, a month ago.

Rick Sherwood, a relatively new member of Colbert’s team, has made sense of it and the other odd number/letter combinations in the letter.

Sherwood served in the Army Security Agency, the military’s elite signals-intelligence outfit, during the Vietnam War. He describes the training as “the equivalent of two years of college in 16 weeks. It was tough.”

Rackstraw briefly served as a chopper pilot in the ASA at the same time Sherwood was with the unit, though Sherwood says he didn’t know him.

After the FBI released the Dec. 11, 1971, letter last November, Sherwood began studying the possible cyphers in it, using his ASA code-breaking training to search for links to Rackstraw. It took him about two weeks to figure out the code, with the initial lightbulb moment coming when he simply added all the numbers up.

Surfacing out of what appears to be a mishmash of unrelated numbers and letters were Rackstraw’s Vietnam military units: the 371st Radio Research Unit and the 11th General Support Company, as well as the Army Security Agency.

It wasn’t a sophisticated code, but Sherwood wasn’t surprised that the FBI couldn’t crack it in the early 1970s, “because it would have made no sense to them. For the FBI to do it, they’d have to know a lot about the individual. I was trying to connect the numbers and letters to him.”

Could Sherwood have accidentally created this solution to the code because he was trying to find a connection to Rackstraw?

“It’s not impossible,” Sherwood says. “But what are the odds that these digits would add up to this? Astronomical. A million to one. Rackstraw didn’t think anyone would be able to break it.”

(Sherwood walked The Oregonian through the code-breaking process he used, with the understanding that the details wouldn’t be included in this article, since they’re a key part of the second D.B. Cooper documentary Colbert is working on.)

Colbert considers the Dec. 11, 1971, letter the cherry on top of his years-long investigation, and he’s not alone. Western Illinois University criminal-science professor Jack Schafer, a psychologist and former FBI agent, found Sherwood’s code-breaking work to be first-rate.

“Since these correlate with identifiers in Rackstraw’s (Army) life, I’m convinced this letter was written by D.B. Cooper,” he told Colbert in an email. “This is your strongest piece of evidence linking him to the hijacker.”

Rackstraw himself, it should be pointed out, often has refused to rule out that he’s the legendary skyjacker. He boasted back in the late 1970s that, given his skill set, he should be on the FBI’s list of suspects. “I wouldn’t discount myself, or a person like myself,” he said. When a reporter asked him point-blank if he was D.B. Cooper, he responded:

“Could have been. Could have been. I can’t commit myself on something like that.”

All these years later he’s still playing the tease.

“They say that I’m him,” Rackstraw told a California reporter last fall. “If you want to believe it, believe it.”

Tom Colbert is betting that viewers of his in-the-works documentary will believe it. Since the FBI doesn’t appear to have any interest in relaunching its D.B. Cooper investigation, Colbert is going to rely on the court of public opinion rather than a court of law to provide some sense of justice in the case.

His quarry, it turns out, apparently wants to do the same. As a result, Rackstraw’s and Colbert’s versions of events actually might end up aligning.

Rackstraw said last year that he was cooperating with film producers, who he refused to name but who it seems are only interested in his story if it includes him jumping out of a Northwest Orient commercial airliner in November 1971. Said Rackstraw:

Reporter Starts 7th Year as Hostage : Lebanon: Terry Anderson of AP is the longest held--and best known--of the Westerners abducted by Islamic fundamentalists.

In a city of 1.4 million people and a reputation for chaos, is it possible that a letter with only a name and “Beirut” for an address can be delivered? The answer is yes, if that name is Terry Anderson.

Now 43, Anderson was kidnaped March 16, 1985 in Beirut. He was, at the time, chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press.

Today, Anderson begins his seventh year as a captive and as the longest held of the 11 Western hostages in Lebanon, including five other Americans.

To underscore Anderson’s plight, his sister, Peggy Say, organized letter-writing campaigns that touched off a unique show of support for American’s best-known hostage in Lebanon.

Thousands of cards, valentines and letters flooded Beirut. Perhaps on the chance that a leftist newspaper could serve as go-between, the Arabic-language daily As Safir became linked with Anderson’s name and acquired the role of postmaster for all 11 Western hostages.

But As Safir’s deputy editor, Mohammed Mashmushi, says: “For us also, it’s a big question why they send us the letters. We received some letters at the beginning and wrote a story. We thought it would help the hostages.”

He admits that there is no way to deliver what now amounts to boxes of holiday greetings, books and children’s drawings.

Although much of the mail for Anderson carries As Safir’s full address, many letters survive the rigors of the international postal system with just “Terry Anderson, Beirut” on the envelope.

Variations of this basic address include: Terry Anderson, c/o the Kidnapers, or Islamic Jihad (the organization claiming to hold Anderson), Hezbollah (a fundamentalist Shiite Muslim group to which the captors of all hostages are believed to have links), or, right to the point, Terry Anderson, Hostage in Beirut. As the longest-held captive, Anderson is seen as a sort of spokesman for the others, and cards are often addressed, “Hstages, c/o Terry Anderson.”

At the main Beirut post office, head employee Ahmed Khalid says that Anderson and the other hostages have all become well-known figures. No problem, he says, if only their names plus “Beirut” appear on the envelopes.

“Once in a while, a new employee will bring me such a letter and ask, ‘Is this for the president (of Lebanon)?'--assuming the person must be the most important in the country.”

The messages from schoolchildren, whose teachers have involved them in letter-writing campaigns, bring both tears and smiles to the faces of those who read them at the offices of As Safir.

Glen, an 8th grader, wrote: “I hope you get out soon so you can see your child.” Anderson’s daughter, Sulome, was born less than three months after he was kidnaped.

One child wrote about captivity from his own point of view. “I hope that you are all freed. It’s bad enough going to my room. I feel like a captive there, but it’s different with you. You’re being held captive for practically nothing.”

A third grader sent a drawing showing Anderson walking up a long winding road toward a house, hands raised in victory and saying, “I’m home.”

Letters from adults carry a standard message. “Don’t ever lose hope. So many people are praying for your return. We have not forgotten you,” one woman wrote.

Say’s long campaign to keep her brother’s plight in the public eye is mentioned in a number of recent letters. “She’s doing all she can to free you,” a minister wrote.

But public awareness brought one letter against its will to Beirut. Tucked in among Anderson’s mail is a Christmas card from Valley Cottage, N.Y., addressed to a family named Anderson in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Apparently the mailman drew the wrong conclusion when he saw “Anderson” and “Lebanon,” putting the card in the Beirut-bound bag. Once here, the Lebanese postal employees finished the job and forwarded the card to As Safir.

One well-wisher, concerned with her own security, used “An admirer of Terry Anderson” as a return address and ended her letter with, “I would sign this, but I do not want to be a victim.”

The kidnapers are just as concerned about maintaining anonymity. Their “mailmen” are in their early 20s, neatly bearded and dressed inconspicuously. Each delivery of a statement, photo or video of one of the hostages is made by a new “employee.”

Islamic Jihad has sent out three videos of Anderson, most recently in late October, 1988.

Often, such an item is handed over with a piece of Kleenex--insurance against leaving fingerprints.

As it has in other years, Anderson’s family ran messages of love and support in the local press today to mark the end of his 6th year of captivity. Brian Keenan, an Irish hostage released last August, was held part of the time with Anderson and said that the kidnapers allowed them to see these messages.

Weird numbers and letters at the end of sections in a newspaper - History

Jonathan "Jot" Gunter (1845-1907) was a lawyer, land dealer, businessman and rancher. Born in 1845 on a farm in North Carolina, he moved with his family to Georgia and then to Upshur County, Texas in about 1860. He enlisted in the Confederate army when the Civil War broke out in 1861. His company guarded the Texas frontier and would later reinforce Dick Dowling's troops at the battle of Sabine Pass. When the Civil War ended he returned home to work on the family farm. After saving money for two years he returned to school at Gilmer, Texas to study law under Judge Oran M. Roberts, who was later to become governor of the state. In 1869, he married Roxana Ford, the daughter of a prominent doctor in Gilmer. Gunter passed the bar and practiced criminal law for three years. He began his partnership with William B. Munson Sr. in 1873, acting as land surveyors and real estate developers, with John S. Summerfield joining them in 1876. The men purchased and surveyed large tracts of land in Texas that would include the town site of Denison and the T Anchor Ranch (originally the GMS Ranch, named for Gunter, Munson and Summerfield) in Randall County. They also held a contract with the State of Texas to survey the Panhandle in return the partnership would receive the deed to every third section (640 acres) of land. As they bought land and received land from contracts, they sought out ranchers, railroad companies and others interested in purchasing land to develop. Gunter and Munson maintained their partnership until 1883, after creating a reputation for themselves across the country and especially in Texas. Gunter went on to start a new business venture in the cattle industry by running the T Anchor Ranch, where he maintained over 3,600 head of cattle. He served in the Texas Volunteer Guard, rising to the rank of colonel before retiring in 1888 he was known as Colonel Gunter for the rest of his life. That same year he moved to Dallas and dealt in real estate until an economic downturn in 1893. Two years later, Gunter and his family moved to Sherman, where his wife worked as a music teacher. In 1898, Gunter donated land for a new town in Grayson County that would be named for him the town expanded in 1902 when the St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas Railway laid tracks in the area. He moved his real estate business to San Antonio in 1901 and helped finance the Gunter Hotel and Gunter Office Building in that city. A month after becoming ill at his Grayson County ranch, he died in San Antonio on July 19, 1907 and is buried in City Cemetery No. 6. On the day of his funeral, the flag on the state Capitol building was lowered to half-staff by order of his personal friend Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell.

(Sources include: David Minor, "Gunter, Jot," and "Gunter, TX (Grayson County)," Handbook of Texas Online, both accessed September 17, 2015 Edward Southerland, "The Way North," Texoma Living Online, September 4, 2010, accessed March 26, 2015 "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form - Gunter Hotel," United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, October 1, 1990, accessed March 26, 2015 Lewis E. Daniell, Texas, the Country and Its Men Historical, Biographical, Descriptive (Austin?: 1924?) William T. Hagan, Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007) Charles A. Siringo, A Lone Star cowboy: being fifty years experience in the saddle as cowboy, detective and New Mexico ranger, on every cow trail in the wooly old West (Santa Fe, New Mexico: 1919) and Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas, December 1888 (Austin: State Printing Office, 1889).)

Biographical Sketch: William Benjamin Munson Sr.

William Benjamin Munson Sr. (1846-1930), attorney and real estate developer, was born in Fulton County, Illinois on January 7, 1846. He attended college for a year in Abington, Illinois but returned home due to financial problems. After a year of farming and teaching at a public school in Illinois, he had enough money to return to college. Munson enrolled at the University of Kentucky in 1866 and became the first graduate from its agricultural and mechanical college. In 1871, Munson moved to Sherman, Texas, where he began work as a surveyor and studied law. He passed the bar exam in 1873 and later that year began his partnership with Jot Gunter. The two were attorneys-at-law as well as real estate dealers. Another focus of their partnership was working with railroad companies to expand their businesses in Texas. Gunter and Munson worked to convince the residents of Sherman of the benefits of bringing the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (M-K-T or Katy) to their town. When the community refused to supply the financial backing necessary, Munson brought the railroad to nearby Denison, making that town the North Texas hub of the M-K-T. Over their ten years in business together, Gunter and Munson continued buying tracts of land in the area, some of which would become the T Anchor Ranch (originally the GMS Ranch, named for Gunter, Munson and John S. Summerfield, their surveying partner). In 1883 Munson and Gunter dissolved their legal relationship, with Munson keeping the Panhandle ranch properties and Gunter retaining the Grayson County holdings. Munson sold his ranch interests in 1888 and with his wife, the former Ellen Newton, returned to Denison, where he began a realty business with his brother, Thomas V. Munson. He was instrumental in founding institutions such as the Citizens State Bank, the First National Bank of Denison, the Denison Light and Power Company, the Eastern Light and Power Company and the Denison Cotton Mill. He remained professionally active until his death on February 6, 1930.

(Sources include: David Minor, "Munson, William Benjamin Sr.," and H. Allen Anderson, "T Anchor Ranch," Handbook of Texas Online "The Way North," Texoma Living Online, September 4, 2010 and "William Benjamin Munson, Sr., " Find A Grave all accessed March 26, 2015.)

Biographical Sketch: Seth Daniel (S.D.) Steedman

Seth Daniel (S.D.) Steedman (1840-1921), county judge and businessman, was born in Lexington County, South Carolina on July 22, 1840. Steedman enrolled at the South Carolina Military Academy and graduated in 1862. During the Civil War he served as an adjutant of the First Alabama Regiment. He was taken prisoner at the surrender of Port Hudson in 1863. Along with 160 other commissioned officers, including his brother, he would remain a prisoner of war until his release on June 28, 1865. He married Ella Heydenfeldt in 1869, though she died the next year. In December 1871, Steedman married Marie Henrietta Anna Mercier in New Orleans, Louisiana, and together they had seven children. In 1875, the family moved to Sherman, Texas and Steedman became a Grayson County judge. He became partners with Jot Gunter in the real estate business from 1872 until 1880. The Grayson County town of Steedman and its post office were named in his honor in 1880 the town's name was changed to Hagerman in 1909. In May 1921, Steedman died in Sherman and was interred in Mount Tabor Cemetery.

(Sources include: "The Story of the Wilcox True Blues," Southern-Style: A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern and "Marie Henrietta Anna Mercier," and "Seth Daniel Steedman," Stedman Family Organization Genealogies all accessed March 22, 2015.)

Biographical Sketch: John S. Summerfield

John S. Summerfield (1853-1918), surveyor, for whom the town of Summerfield in Castro County, Texas is named, was born in England on October 24, 1853. After immigrating to the United States around 1874, he worked as a surveyor to run boundary lines in Kansas, Colorado and Indian Territory in 1874-1875. In 1876 Summerfield began a partnership with Jot Gunter and William B. Munson Sr., travelling to the Panhandle each year with a surveying crew in order to create land surveys and field notes for Gunter and Munson's clients. Summerfield was the owner of one-third of the GMS (Gunter, Munson, Summerfield) Ranch and supervised the ranch's barbed-wire fence building operations in the summer of 1881. That fall, Summerfield sold his interest in the ranch to Julian "Jule" Gunter, one of Jot's nephews the ranch was renamed the T Anchor Ranch for the cattle brand that Jule Gunter had used in Indian Territory and introduced to the operation. Summerfield continued to conduct surveys for railroad companies in Deaf Smith and Castro counties until he established a real estate business in Dallas. He also performed surveying for Gunter and Munson and communicated with their clients and suppliers through the 1880s and 1890s. In 1910 he became the manager of the JA Ranch in the Panhandle and held the position for a year. Summerfield died in Dallas on May 20, 1918.

(Sources include: H. Allen Anderson, "Summerfield, John S.," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 5, 2015.)

Biographical Sketch: Julian "Jule" Gunter

Julian "Jule" Gunter (1851-1922), businessman and cattleman, nephew of Jot Gunter and brother of Nat Gunter, bought William Munson's interest in the Gunter and Munson partnership in 1883, continuing the business with Jot as Gunter and Gunter. Jule had bought John S. Summerfield's interest in the GMS Ranch in 1881, helping to transform it into the T Anchor Ranch, renamed for the cattle brand he brought with him from his ranching operation in Indian Territory. As Nat's sole heir, Jule pursued an unpaid inheritance that Nat believed Jot Gunter meant to bestow upon him but did not make provision for in his last will. Jot's widow refused to acknowledge any debt owed by her husband's estate to Nat or Jule Gunter, though the original court's judgment in her favor was reversed by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Jule Gunter died in Chickasha, Oklahoma on February 25, 1921 after having been a cattle breeder in Cooke County of that state for many years.

(Sources include: "Jule Gunter," Find a Grave and Gunter v. Gunter, United States Circuit Courts of Appeals reports, Volume 98, 546-547 (Rochester: Lawyers' Co-operative Publishing Co., 1910) all accessed September 21, 2015.)

Biographical Sketch: Nat Gunter

Nat Gunter (1859-1908), lawyer and businessman, nephew of Jot Gunter and brother of Julian "Jule" Gunter, graduated from law school at the University of Michigan and practiced law in Sherman and later in San Antonio, Texas. He had been raised and educated by Jot and Roxana Gunter, mirroring the parental role that Nat's father, W.W. Gunter, fulfilled for his own much younger brother Jot. For at least 20 years he managed Jot Gunter's ranch in Grayson County and in 1895 held one-third interest in profits made on that land. Due to financial troubles at that time, Jot Gunter remortgaged the ranch land and, in compensation to Nat, executed a will that gave Nat a one-tenth interest in Jot's estate, though a subsequent will bequeathed his entire estate to his wife, Roxana. Jot's intention to amend that will to give Nat $50,000 was not fulfilled before his death. Roxana Gunter refused to recognize any debt owed to Nat, or to Jule Gunter, Nat's sole heir after his death, though the original court's judgment in her favor was reversed by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Nat Gunter died in San Antonio on February 13, 1908 from a pulmonary illness.

(Sources include: obituaries for Nat Gunter in the San Antonio Daily Express and San Antonio Light, February 8, 1908 and Gunter v. Gunter, United States Circuit Courts of Appeals reports, Volume 98, 546-547 (Rochester: Lawyers' Co-operative Publishing Co., 1910) all accessed September 21, 2015.)

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Gunter, Munson and Steedman letters consist of typescript copies of outgoing letters sent from two late 19th century Texas real estate development partnerships: Gunter and Munson, and Steedman and Gunter. The 39 volumes of letters date from 1872 to 1899, with the majority of the letters emanating from the partnership of Jonathan "Jot" Gunter and William B. Munson Sr. Only one volume (1872-1880) documents the partnership of Seth Daniel (S.D.) Steedman and Jot Gunter.

The majority of the letters deal with the surveying of land--especially in the Panhandle--and travel arrangements for the survey parties the purchase of land for railroad companies (such as the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Texas and Pacific Columbus Tap Tyler Tap Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Central Texas Central, East Line and Red River and Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe) the purchase of land for businesses correspondence with Jot Gunter's brother Ben trade negotiations for items such as sewing machines and whiskey land disputes and lawsuits against businesses and clients negotiations of payment, payment receipts, land and railroad patents, certificates and deeds to record holding institutions and travel arrangements for land buyers. The materials also document the financial operations of the business, often referring to payments that were due to them or that were received. During the late 19th century, land speculation was common in Texas and the surrounding areas these letters show how businessmen ran such an operation and illustrate some of the issues they faced.

The first series, Gunter and Munson letters sent, consists of 38 volumes of correspondence documenting the Gunter and Munson partnership of land surveying and ranch ownership during the years 1874 to 1899 in Grayson County, Texas and the state's Panhandle, where they owned and operated the GMS (Gunter, Munson, Summerfield) Ranch, later to become the T Anchor Ranch, influential for being the first in that area to use barbed-wire fencing. Though their partnership officially lasted only between 1873 and 1883, correspondence signed as "Gunter and Munson" concerning their apparent joint business holdings continues through 1899. Letters sent from mid-1883 though early 1887 were signed as Gunter and Gunter (Jule Gunter, Jot's nephew, is the second Gunter). Throughout the correspondence, land surveying, patents, grants and certificates are discussed with clients such as railroad companies, business owners and private individuals. Gunter and Munson's clients were from cities in Texas and elsewhere, including Sherman, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis. Instances of trade negotiations concerning livestock and other goods for the T Anchor Ranch occur throughout the letters as do survey parties' relationships and disagreements with American Indians.

Although the majority of the letters written by Gunter and Munson are about the business of land sales there are also personal letters to Gunter's brother, Ben, discussing overnight travel plans, family matters and economic concerns. The majority of the letters in the last three volumes of this series are letters written by surveyor and former GMS Ranch partner John Summerfield or by Nat Gunter, Jot's nephew. Summerfield (sometimes written as Sunnenfield in the letters) writes on behalf of the T Anchor Ranch and in correspondence with Jot Gunter. Nat Gunter begins writing letters on behalf of his uncle who is away on business in the last two volumes, between 1894 to 1899. The letters written by Jot Gunter often solicit job positions or recommendation letters for Nat, whom he raised and educated. These three volumes significantly change the previous discourse in the other Gunter and Munson letters instead of the majority of the conversation revolving around the buying and selling of land, the focus is on the buying, selling and trade of cattle for the ranch. Multiple letters are written to the Indian Livestock Company and the Continental Cattle Company, with whom Gunter did most of his cattle transactions.

The series Steedman and Gunter letters sent consists of one volume of letters, with the majority written by S.D. Steedman. The letters discuss land deeds, land certificates, land surveys and lawsuits with their real estate development clients throughout the country, from cities including Washington, D.C., Columbus, Kentucky and New Orleans, Louisiana. Along with their individual client services, Steedman and Gunter also worked with large railroad companies such as the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad, Transcontinental Railroad and Houston and Texas Central Railroad. Steedman and Gunter worked with the railroad companies and land surveyors to find the companies land in the Panhandle.

To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.

Organization of the Collection


Restrictions on Access

Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.

Restrictions on Use

Under the Copyright Act of 1976 as amended in 1998, unpublished manuscripts are protected at a minimum through December 31, 2002 or 70 years after the author's death. The term of copyright for published material varies. Researchers are responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).

Technical Requirements

Index Terms

Related Material

The following materials are offered as possible sources of further information on the agencies and subjects covered by the records. The listing is not exhaustive.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

(Identify the item and cite the series), Gunter, Munson and Steedman letters. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Accession Information

These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the University of Texas Archives, later renamed the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, in September 1960.

Processing Information

Processed by Rachel Nellis and Megan Moltrup, students at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, spring 2015

Revisions to description and coding by Rebecca Romanchuk, September 2015

Location of Originals

All of the letters were copied through the efforts of Texas historian J. Evetts Haley from the originals in possession of Mrs. Jot (Roxana) Gunter of San Antonio at the time, between 1931 and 1933.

Brief History of the Lincoln Papers

Abraham Lincoln&rsquos papers were acquired by gifts, transfers, deposits, purchases, and reproductions during the years 1901-2013. The Lincoln Papers came to the Library of Congress from Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), who arranged for their organization and care shortly after his father was assassinated on April 14, 1865. At that time, Robert Todd Lincoln had the Lincoln Papers removed to Illinois, where they were first organized under the direction of Judge David Davis of Bloomington, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's longtime associate. Later, Lincoln&rsquos presidential secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, assisted in the project. In 1874, most of the Lincoln Papers returned to Washington, D.C., and Nicolay and Hay used them in the research and writing of their ten-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A History (New York, 1890). Robert Todd Lincoln deposited the Lincoln Papers with the Library of Congress in 1919, and deeded them to the Library on January 23, 1923. The deed stipulated that the Lincoln Papers remain sealed until twenty-one years after Robert Todd Lincoln&rsquos death. On July 26, 1947, the Lincoln Papers were officially opened to the public.

The most complete account of the early history of the Abraham Lincoln Papers appears in volume 1 of David C. Mearns, The Lincoln Papers (Garden City, N.Y., 1948), 3-136. An article by the same author which appeared in the December 1947 issue of the Abraham Lincoln Quarterly External contains the substance of the story. An additional history of the provenance of the collection was prepared for the Index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers, pp. v-vi (PDF and page view) and subsequently reproduced in the finding aid (PDF and HTML). A version appears on this website as the essay Provenance of the Abraham Lincoln Papers.

Some Lincoln documents which had been retained by Nicolay were restored to the Lincoln Papers and were arranged as Series 2 to assure their identification. Other miscellaneous acquisitions are found in Series 3 and 4.

Scanned images from the Abraham Lincoln Papers first became available online in 2001 as the American Memory website Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcriptions prepared for roughly half of the documents by the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College were added in 2002. The present iteration of the online Abraham Lincoln Papers is an updated version of the American Memory site, with additional features, original materials not included in the previous presentation, and the replacement of images scanned from the microfilm edition with full-color images scanned from the original documents.

Once Again, Brandeis Students Master Selective Outrage

B randeis University, where I am a senior, sometimes goes to extremes to create &ldquosafe spaces&rdquo for its students. Case in point: last spring the university disinvited renowned international human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali from attending commencement and withdrew awarding her an honorary degree because of comments she had made criticizing Islamism. In defending its indefensible position, Brandeis said that Hirsi Ali&rsquos views were &ldquoinconsistent with Brandeis University&rsquos core values&rdquo and prioritized the idea that student&rsquos feelings wouldn&rsquot get hurt over the opportunity to honor a champion of women&rsquos rights.

In the end, Brandeis opted to create a safe space instead of an intellectual space, and the students who protested Hirsi Ali were comforted rather than challenged. To many, the university failed in its overarching mission.

On December 20, like other Americans, I was shocked when I heard about the horrific murders of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. There was a clear consensus across the country that their execution-style murders were barbaric and grotesque. That night, however, Brandeis student leader Khadijah Lynch tweeted, &ldquoI have no sympathy for the NYPD officers who were murdered today&rdquo and &ldquoLMAO, all I just really don&rsquot have sympathy for the cops who were shot. I hate this racist, f&helliping country.”

Lynch, a Brandeis junior, was an undergraduate representative for the African and Afro-American studies department. As a student journalist who frequently writes about the culture wars on campus, I knew her comments were newsworthy. Here was a student leader at a well-known American university publicly condoning cold-blooded murder. So I wrote a short blog post highlighting Lynch&rsquos public comments. These pieces usually generate a local response, but this post went viral.

This was not Lynch&rsquos first bigoted tweet. In previous tweets since deleted, she has described Brandeis as “a social themed institution grounded in Zionism. Word. That a f&helliping fanny dooly.” And she cannot understand why “black people have not burned this country down&hellip.” She describes herself as “in riot mode. F&hellip this f&helliping country.”

After my story was posted, online commenters, both anonymous and identifiable, made morally repugnant and offensive remarks about Lynch. Some even made death threats. I immediately condemned these sentiments. A journalist does not control how others react to a story he writes.

Now, however, I am the subject of a nasty and menacing campus backlash. &ldquoKill the messenger&rdquo appears to be the &ldquoin thing&rdquo on the Brandeis campus. Students rallied to have me disciplined. Why? Because I reported a story worthy of public attention.

Threats of violence against me have been made and a group of students demanded in an email that the Brandeis administration hold me &ldquoaccountable for [my] actions&rdquo and kick me out of school just one semester shy of graduation. I was also accused of &ldquostalking&rdquo Lynch by reporting her public tweets and thereby defaming her character because of comments made by others. The university administration sent me an email instructing me &ldquoto have no contact with &hellip in any way, shape or form&rdquo the student who sent that email. That contact ban has since been lifted. As far as I know, I have never spoken to this student in my time at Brandeis and would fail to pick him out of a police lineup. But if I were by chance to be in a room with this student, I could potentially face trouble in Brandeis&rsquos student judicial system, as &ldquo[a]ny alleged violation(s) of these conditions should be reported to the Dean of Students Office.&rdquo

In addition, the Brandeis Asian American Student Association went so far as to state that they took &ldquono official stance on the opinions that Khadijah has expressed&rdquo but that they stood &ldquoin solidarity with&rdquo her &ndash even though one of the murdered Brooklyn police officers was Asian. One student even wildly claimed that I supported the threats made against Lynch.

A Brandeis official called Lynch&rsquos comments &ldquohurtful and disrespectful.” She resigned from her position in the African and Afro-American studies department. When I contacted Lynch for a comment about her tweets, she tweeted, &ldquoI need to get my gun license. Asap.&rdquo That tweet has also been deleted. I have now been accused of being a racist and being in bed with white supremacists since I made Lynch&rsquos public tweets more public.

In my meeting with the Brandeis public safety officials to discuss the threats made against me, I was told that I should consider changing my dorm room, and that it is a reasonable expectation that my car would be vandalized. They also recommended that I purchase mace at the local Walmart.

Violent hatred directed toward any innocent is wrong&mdashwhether it is at student leaders at a university, police officers patrolling the streets, or student journalists doing their job. That many Brandeis students exhibit selective outrage and are willing to extol the virtues of free speech, but only when that speech confirms their preconceived biases, illustrates their hypocrisy in claiming to care about &ldquocivil rights.&rdquo Indeed, and sadly so, the Brandeis student body provided a louder defense of Lynch&rsquos right to condone the murder of New York City police officers, and her hatred of America, than my right to report on it.

It is the threat of violence, expulsion, and attack for voicing your views that keeps tyrants in power&mdashas Wednesday&rsquos attack on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo illustrates. The very marker of liberal societies is the ability to speak freely and openly regardless of who may be offended. There is no room for intimidation in the modern university, and campuses must aim to fulfill this ambition.

In a column about this incident, Alan Dershowitz wrote, &ldquoSo welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the academic hard left, where bigoted speech by fellow hard leftists is protected, but counter expression is labeled as &lsquoharassment,&rsquo &lsquoincitement,&rsquo and &lsquobullying.&rsquo Imagine how different the reaction of these same radical students would be if a white supporter of the KKK had written comparably incendiary tweets.&rdquo

Regardless of political ideology, it is imperative that Brandeis community members unite to reject the calls for violence or physical harm with the same fervor that we demand freedom of speech. In doing so we can help shape a better future for our community and America at large. It is our rule of law that ensures our freedom of expression and enables us to envision a more positive path forward.

15 Words Plagued by Unusual Silent Letters

The scourge of spellers, silent letters are often a stumbling block when learning how to write in English. To the modern eye, it's unclear what these letters are doing in the words in question, and learners sometimes simply have to memorize them. But the silent letters are very often hidden remnants of how the words passed through different languages on their way to English. Here, from our friends at, are 15 words that prove that English spelling is far from rational.


dwelling beneath the surface of the earth

Greek-derived words often feature tricky consonant clusters that don't get pronounced that way in English. This word (from Greek kthon, meaning "earth"), tends to lose its initial "k" sound and ends up sounding like thonic.


expectorated matter saliva mixed with discharges from the respiratory passages in ancient and medieval physiology it was believed to cause sluggishness

The "g" sound was lost when Latin phlegma became Old French fleume. But the silent "g" still gets pronounced in variations on the word, such as phlegmatic, which means "showing little emotion."


The first part of this word is from pteron, Greek for "feather" or "wing." The second part comes from daktylos, meaning "finger."


animal tissue consisting predominantly of contractile cells

It comes from Latin musculus, literally meaning "little mouse," but the "c" went silent when the word entered French.


of or relating to or involving the practice of aiding the memory

The word is from the Greek mnemonikos, "pertaining to memory." The mn- consonant cluster proved too tricky in the languages that have borrowed the word and was simplified to an "n" sound.


respiratory disorder characterized by wheezing usually of allergic origin

This word, dating from the late 14th century, used to be spelled as it is pronounced, asma. It was only in the 16th century that the "th" was reintroduced to the English spelling, to make it like the Latin and Greek spellings.


of an appropriate or pertinent nature

The word is from French, like rendezvous and faux below, where final consonants are often silent.


an acknowledgment (usually tangible) that payment has been made

In the Anglo-French spoken by the Norman conquerors, the word was spelled receite. The spelling eventually changed in English to add a "p" (bringing it into line with the Latin root recepta), but the pronunciation stayed the same.


manually manipulate (someone's body), usually for medicinal or relaxation purposes

This comes from the Old English verb cnedan and Middle English kneden. But like other kn- words, including knight and know, the "k" went silent in Modern English.


The root is Latin honestus, meaning "honorable," ultimately from honos, also the source of honor. And like honor, the initial "h" sound was lost in the French versions of the word on their way to English.

11. GNAW

bite or chew on with the teeth

This started out in Old English as gnagan. Just as kn- words from earlier eras of English lost their "k," gn- words were also simplified to the "n" sound.


difficult to detect or grasp by the mind or analyze

Like receipt, this is what happens when you make the spelling imitate Latin but forget about the pronunciation. French had lost the "b" in Latin subtilis ("fine"), resulting in sotil, which was then remade to look (but not sound) like the Latin original.


dignified and somber in manner or character and committed to keeping promises

As with phlegm above, the silent n in solemn gets pronounced in related words like solemnity.

14. FAUX

not genuine or real being an imitation of the genuine article

In Old French, Latin falsus ("false") became fals or faus, eventually leading to faux with a silent "x."


a meeting planned at a certain time and place

This is from the French phrase rendez vous, meaning "present yourselves." Following the French pronunciation, both the "z" and "s" go silent.

The Prism

An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844, when Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail. Mazzini, a revolutionary who’d been thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris, was plotting the unification of the kingdoms of Italy and the founding of an Italian republic. He suspected that, in London, he’d been the victim of what he called “post-office espionage”: he believed that the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, had ordered his mail to be opened, at the request of the Austrian Ambassador, who, like many people, feared what Mazzini hoped—that an insurrection in Italy would spark a series of revolutions across Europe. Mazzini knew how to find out: he put poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into envelopes, sealed the envelopes with wax, and sent them, by post, to himself. When the letters arrived—still sealed—they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand. Mazzini then had his friend Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons. Duncombe wanted to know if Graham really had ordered the opening of Mazzini’s mail. Was the British government in the business of prying into people’s private correspondence? Graham said the answer to that question was a secret.

Questions raised this month about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency have been met, so far, with much the same response that Duncombe got from Graham in 1844: the program is classified. (This, a secret secret, is known as a double secret.) Luckily, old secrets aren’t secret old secrets are history. The Mazzini affair, as the historian David Vincent argued in “The Culture of Secrecy,” led to “the first modern attack on official secrecy.” It stirred a public uproar, and eventually the House of Commons appointed a Committee of Secrecy “to inquire into the State of the Law in respect of the Detaining and Opening of Letters at the General Post-office, and into the Mode under which the Authority given for such Detaining and Opening has been exercised.” In August of 1844, the committee issued a hundred-and-sixteen-page report on the goings on at the post office. Fascinating to historians, it must have bored Parliament silly. It includes a history of the delivery of the mail, back to the sixteenth century. (The committee members had “showed so much antiquarian research,” Lord John Russell remarked, that he was surprised they hadn’t gone all the way back to “the case of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who opened the letters which had been committed to his charge, and got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern put to death instead of himself.”)

The report revealed that Mazzini’s mail had indeed been opened and that there existed something called the Secret Department of the Post Office. Warrants had been issued for reading the mail of the king’s subjects for centuries. Before Mazzini and the poppy seeds, the practice was scarcely questioned. It was not, however, widespread. “The general average of Warrants issued during the present century, does not much exceed 8 a-year,” the investigation revealed. “This number would comprehend, on an average, the Letters of about 16 persons annually.” The Committee of Secrecy was relieved to report that rumors that the Secret Department of the Post Office had, at times, sent “entire mail-bags” to the Home Office were false: “None but separate Letters or Packets are ever sent.”

The entire episode was closely watched in the United States, where the New-York Tribune condemned the opening of Mazzini’s mail as “a barbarian breach of honor and decency.” After the Committee of Secrecy issued its report, Mazzini published an essay called “Letter-Opening at the Post-Office.” Two months after the Mazzini affair began, the Secret Department of the Post Office was abolished. What replaced it, in the long run, was even sneakier: better-kept secrets.

The opening of Mazzini’s mail, like the revelations that the N.S.A. has been monitoring telephone, e-mail, and Internet use, illustrates the intricacy of the relationship between secrecy and privacy. Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves. Mazzini considered his correspondence private the British government kept its reading of his mail secret. The A.C.L.U., which last week filed a suit against the Obama Administration, has called the N.S.A.’s surveillance program a “gross infringement” of the “right to privacy.” The Obama Administration has defended both the program and the fact that its existence has been kept secret.

As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom: the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. The post office has opened your mail. Your photograph is on Facebook. Google already knows that, notwithstanding your demographic, you hate kale.

The particular technology matters little the axiom holds. It’s only a feature, though, of a centuries-long historical transformation: the secularization of mystery. A mystery, in Christian theology, is what God knows and man cannot, and must instead believe. Immortality, in this sense, is a mystery. So is the beginning of life, which is a good illustration of how much that was once mysterious became secret and then became private. Anciently invoked as one of God’s mysteries, the beginning of life was studied, by anatomists, as the “secret of generation.” Finally, citizens, using the language of a constitutional “right to privacy,” defended it against intrusion. Theologically, the beginning of life, the ensoulment of new flesh, remains a mystery. Empirically, uncovering the secret of generation required tools—microscopes, lenses, cameras—that made the creation of life both visible and knowable. Only after it was no longer a mystery, and no longer a secret, only after it was no longer invisible, did it become private. By then, it was too late: contraception was already in the hands of the state.

Secret government programs that pry into people’s private affairs are bound up with ideas about secrecy and privacy that arose during the process by which the mysterious became secular. The mysteries of the Church are beyond the knowledge of any man and, therefore, outside the scope of the state. During the Reformation, Protestants rejected many mysteries as superstitions, and what was mysterious then began to move from priests to princes. By the seventeenth century, the phrase “mysteries of state” meant both state secrets and monarchical power and right—not what God knows, and we do not know and must accept, but what the king knows, and we do not. In 1616, in a speech to the Star Chamber, James I talked about his “Prerogative or mystery of State,” proclaiming, “That which concernes the mysterie of the Kings power, is not lawfull to be disputed.” But monarchical notions about the royal prerogative were challenged by the very existence of books like “The Cabinet-Council, Containing the Cheif Arts of Empire and Mysteries of State, Discabineted,” published in 1658. It was an age of political reformation, rich with arguments that knowledge that was once the privilege of the king ought to be revealed, taken out of the king’s cabinet. In the early modern world, a mystery came to mean any kind of secret that could be revealed to an ordinary man.

It was at just this moment in the history of the world, on the knife edge between mystery and secrecy, that the United States was founded—as a republic whose politics would be open to scrutiny, its mysteries of state discabineted. The Constitution was meant to mark the end of an age of political mystery. (The claim was loftier, as is inevitably the case, than the reality.) In a republic, there ought to be no mysteries of state: all was to be revealed to the people. It would be revealed, chiefly, in print, and, especially, in newspapers, where, as Thomas Jefferson explained, the “contest of opinion” was waged. The danger, in a republic, wasn’t an inquisitorial priesthood. It was a corrupt journalist. And so when Jefferson attacked newspaper printers the best way he could think to insult them was to accuse them of cultivating mystery: “They, like the clergy, live by the zeal they can kindle.” The objection to mystery in government lies behind Jefferson’s commitment to the separation of church and state.

“Secresy is an instrument of conspiracy,” Jeremy Bentham argued, in an essay called “Of Publicity,” first published in 1843, a year before the Mazzini affair. “It ought not, therefore, to be the system of a regular government.” By “publicity,” Bentham meant what is now usually called transparency, or openness. “Without publicity, no good is permanent: under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.” He urged, for instance, that members of the public be allowed into the legislature, and that the debates held there be published. The principal defense for keeping the proceedings of government private—the position advocated by those Bentham called “the partisans of mystery”—was that the people are too ignorant to judge their rulers. “This, then, is the reasoning of the partisans of mystery,” Bentham wrote. “ ‘You are incapable of judging, because you are ignorant and you shall remain ignorant, that you may be incapable of judging.’ ” But Bentham insisted not only that publicity could educate the public (who would learn about politics by reading the proceedings) but also that it would improve the nature of political conversation (because elected officials would behave better if they were being watched).

In 1844, during the parliamentary debate that followed the report issued by the Committee of Secrecy, some members, believing, with Bentham, that publicity is the enemy of secrecy, suggested that it was fine for the government to open people’s mail, as long as the recipients of the mail were notified that it had been read. (Disraeli said that he would be only too happy to hand over his mail to the Home Office: “They may open all my letters, provided they answer them.”) In “Letter-Opening at the Post-Office,” Mazzini revealed just how much the debate had been informed by Bentham’s arguments about publicity. Diplomats might have their secrets, he granted, but postmen? “Why, who are these men who treat as enemies their fellow subjects of the realm?” he asked. “For public servants, we want responsibility and responsibility cannot be obtained without publicity. Secrecy is but another word for fear. MYSTERY was the name of the beast in the revelations. The great monster by which was typified all the civil and ecclesiastical corruptions of the earth, had on its forehead a name written and that name was MYSTERY.”

Bentham’s argument influenced not only how Parliament and the public responded to the Mazzini affair—with calls for transparency and an end to secrecy—but also how Americans came to understand the nature of a democracy. The mystery of state, in which a king is crowned by the hand of an invisible God, had yielded to a democracy, in which rulers are elected and the secrets of state are made public. In a democracy, publicity is a virtue.

“And this tattoo is an old English proverb.”

Still more influential than Bentham’s ideas about publicity, though, was the growing fetish for privacy in an age of domesticity. (The history of privacy is bounded privacy, as an aspiration, didn’t really exist before the rise of individualism, and it got good and going only with the emergence of a middle class.) Nineteenth-century Americans were obsessed with the idea of privacy and the physical boundaries that marked it, like the walls of a house, and, equally, with the holes in those walls, like mail slots cut into doors. When mystery became the stuff of the past, of medievalism and of Gothic romance, a “mystery” came to mean a kind of fiction, stories—in the United States, those of Edgar Allan Poe, above all—in which something that first appears inexplicable and even supernatural is submitted to explanation, through the art of detection. (To detect is, etymologically, to remove the roof of a house.) “It was a mystery all insoluble,” Poe’s narrator remarks, in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” But in Poe every mystery is soluble. Nothing ever remains hidden. Crimes must be solved. Walls must be breached. Tombs must be unearthed. Envelopes must be opened.

The fetish for privacy attached, with special passion, to letters. In the spring of 1844, the year of the Mazzini affair, Poe sat down to write a story called “The Purloined Letter.” A few months later, a hardworking young man named James Holbrook was hired as a special agent by the United States Post-Office Department. He chronicled his experiences in a memoir called “Ten Years Among the Mail Bags or, Notes from the Diary of a Special Agent of the Post-Office Department.” “A mail bag is an epitome of human life,” Holbrook explained. The point of this Post-Office Department was not to violate people’s privacy but to protect it. Holbrook’s job was to stop people from opening other people’s mail. He was a post-office detective. “Ten Years Among the Mail Bags,” like a great deal of nineteenth-century fiction, is full of purloined letters.

E-mail isn’t that different from mail. The real divide, historically, isn’t digital it’s literary. The nineteenth century, in many parts of the West, including the United States, marked the beginning of near-universal literacy. All writing used to be, in a very real sense, secret, except to the few who knew how to read. What, though, if everyone could read? Then every mystery could be revealed. A letter is a proxy for your self. To write a letter is to reveal your character, to spill out your soul onto a piece of paper. Universal literacy meant universal decipherment, and universal exposure. If everyone could write, everyone could be read. It was terrifying.

In 1890, two Boston lawyers, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, published an article in the Harvard Law Review called “The Right to Privacy.” Warren was a Boston Brahmin, but Brandeis’s parents were Eastern Europeans who had supported a failed uprising in Austria in 1848—the very revolution that, four years before, had been anticipated by the Austrian Ambassador who persuaded the British Home Secretary to read Giuseppe Mazzini’s mail. The suppression of the uprising had been followed by a wave of anti-Semitism, leading to the Brandeis family’s decision to emigrate to the United States. Louis Brandeis was born in Kentucky in 1856. In the eighteen-seventies, he and Warren were classmates at Harvard Law School (Brandeis helped found the Harvard Law Review) after graduation, they opened a law firm together. Warren married Mabel Bayard, a senator’s daughter, in 1883. As the legal scholar Amy Gajda has shown, nearly sixty articles of gossip about the Warren-Bayard family appeared in newspapers between 1882 and 1890—including front-page stories, two weeks apart, about the funerals of Mrs. Warren’s mother and sister. Warren was infuriated. His household had been violated his family’s privacy, like a letter, had been purloined. (A great many ideas about privacy have to do with hiding women and families.)

In “The Right to Privacy,” Warren and Brandeis argued that there exists a legal right to be let alone—a right that had never been defined before. Their essay lies at the heart of every legal decision that has been made about privacy ever since. The right to privacy, as they understood it, is a function of history, a consequence of modernity. Privacy, they argued, hadn’t always been necessary it had become necessary—because of the shifting meaning and nature of publicity. By the end of the nineteenth century, publicity, which for Bentham had meant transparency (the opposite of secrecy), had come to mean the attention of the press (the opposite of privacy). Making public the deliberations of Congress was a public good making public the names of mourners at Mrs. Warren’s mother’s funeral was not. (The same distinction informed the debate that resulted, in the eighteen-eighties and nineties, in the adoption of the secret ballot. Citizens vote in private legislative votes are public.)

“The Right to Privacy” is a manifesto against the publicity of modernity: the rise of both the public eye (the eye of the citizen, and of the reporter) and the private eye (the eye of the detective). “The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization,” Warren and Brandeis wrote, “have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.” Modern life, according to Warren and Brandeis, consists of an endless chain of machines that threaten to expose the private to public view: “Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’ ”

For Warren and Brandeis, the right to privacy was necessary to protect what they called the “inviolate personality.” As a pair of literary scholars has suggested, Warren and Brandeis got part of this idea from philosophers and part from poets. (William James wrote about a “hidden self” William Wordsworth wrote about “the individual Mind that keeps her own / Inviolate retirement.”) Warren and Brandeis believed that the violation of the right to privacy constitutes a kind of wound—a puncturing of the soul—that might, finally, deaden our minds. The stakes had become, suddenly, very high.

Something creepy happened when mystery became secular, secrecy became a technology, and privacy became a right. The inviolability of the self replaced the inscrutability of God. No wonder people got buggy about it.

Long before the Patriot Act, of 2001, and the expanded authorization of surveillance to fight terrorism—long, even, before the rise of the national-security state—Louis Brandeis predicted the encroachment of technologies of secrecy on the right to privacy. Brandeis was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1916. He was sitting on the bench when, in 1928, in Olmstead v. United States, the Court considered the constitutionality of wiretapping. Roy Olmstead was a bootlegger from Seattle who had been a police officer before he was arrested for violating laws prohibiting the import and sale of alcohol. He was arrested in 1924 his conviction rested on evidence obtained by tapping his telephone. The question before the Supreme Court, in 1928, was whether evidence acquired through wiretapping was admissible in criminal proceedings, or whether the gathering of that evidence violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In a five-to-four decision, the Court affirmed Olmstead’s conviction. (Olmstead served three years’ hard labor but was pardoned by Franklin Roosevelt, in 1935.) Brandeis dissented: he argued that tapping Olmstead’s telephone constituted a violation of his right to be let alone.

Brandeis’s dissent in Olmstead is, in effect, a continuation of the argument that he had begun in 1890. He thought that wiretapping was just a new form of coerced confession—the replacement of “force and violence” by wires and electrical current. At one time, Brandeis said, the government “could compel the individual to testify—a compulsion effected, if need be, by torture. It could secure possession of his papers and other articles incident to his private life—a seizure effected, if need be, by breaking and entry.” But, in the twentieth century, he went on, “subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the Government. Discovery and invention have made it possible for the Government, by means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet.”

And the invasion wouldn’t end there. “The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire tapping,” Brandeis predicted. “Ways may some day be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.”

The N.S.A. has been gathering data online for years. Through the Prism project, which began in 2007, and is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks, it has been “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies,” according to the Washington Post. The companies have denied that this is true. “We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers,” Larry Page and David Drummond, Google’s C.E.O. and chief legal officer, said. “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s C.E.O., insisted. Congress is sure to launch an investigation. (Exactly how Internet companies have complied with requests from intelligence agencies has not yet fully come out.)

For all that has changed in the past few centuries, much that happens in government remains cloaked in mystery, if only because cloaking a secret in mystery is a very good way to hide the exercise of power. In the coming days and weeks, much of the investigation of N.S.A. surveillance will involve detective work: in the stories that will be written, Edward Snowden will make a good character and the plot will be dark, but Poe would have devised a better ending.

One aspect of this story that Congress is unlikely to concern itself with is the relationship, in the twenty-first century, between privacy and publicity. In the twentieth century, the golden age of public relations, publicity, meaning the attention of the press, came to be something that many private citizens sought out and even paid for. This has led, in our own time, to the paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity. In this world, we chronicle our lives on Facebook while demanding the latest and best form of privacy protection—ciphers of numbers and letters—so that no one can violate the selves we have so entirely contrived to expose.

Watch the video: Sections of a newspaper (January 2022).