In any wartime affair, the ongoing game of covert “cat and mouse” between two sides inevitably plays a key role in the eventual outcome of the battling. This was no different in our first foray into armed conflict as a nation in the American Revolutionary War – an entanglement deepened by the signing of the document (and what it represents) we celebrate today.
In 1775, the Continental Congress created secret committees to oversee foreign and domestic intelligence, respectively. Benjamin Franklin was the most notable member of Congress to play a role on these newly created groups which, essentially, oversaw spies and spying against Britain. The first Patriot intelligence network was a secret group in Boston known as the Mechanics; one of its members is also well-known to American history: Paul Revere.
Key to successful spying and intelligence gathering was misdirection and hidden communication. One tool used most prevalently was invisible ink – made up of a compound such as cobalt chloride, glycerine and water. Messages were typically concealed by agents on blank pages of pamphlets and notebooks. Cryptography, the use of codes and ciphers, was also utilized widely. This might entail something as simple as the number of laundry items left to out to dry signaling a meeting place, to a more complicated system encompassing the use of a numerical or alphabetical code substituting names and places for numbers and letters.
Slight of hand combined with daring, bravery and conviction. Cleverness joined with intelligence, ingenuity and foresight. Our forefathers encompassed all of these things and more, including the innate ability to communicate effectively with each other – whether behind a disguise or in a public forum; the latter enabling the creation of a document that would declare our freedom and lay the very foundation for this great country.