Such a measure, even for a limited and short time, is always liable to adverse as well as favorable considerations; and its operation at this moment, will add fuel to party discontent, and interested clamor. But it is a rational & provident measure, and will be relished by a greater portion, (Footnote 1) of the Nation, than an omission of it. If it could have been taken sooner and for a period of 3 or 4 months, it might have enlisted an alarm of the B. Cabinet, for their Peninsular System, on the side of Concessions to us; and wd have shaken (Footnote 2) their obstinacy, if to be shaken at all; the successes on that Theatre, being evidently their hold on the P. Regt and the hold of both on the vanity & prejudices of the nation. Whether if adopted for 60 days, it may beget apprehensions of a protraction, & thence lead to admissible (Footnote 3) overtures, before the sword is stained (Footnote 4) with blood, can not be foreknown with certainty. (Source)

I. Does vanity mean defnition 1 or 2 at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/vanity?q=vanity? Would someone please explain how they ascertained the meaning?
I'd like to be enlightened about the thought processes.

II. I'm tentative about "enlisted an alarm of the B. Cabinet"? The definitions of enlist don't figure?

  1. [mass noun] Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements:
  2. [mass noun] The quality of being worthless or futile

Vanity in this usage means unwillingness to admit that ideas other than their own are valid (out of pride). Hence vanity and prejudices.

Enlist an alarm strikes me as a very strange usage. I cannot plot it on an NGRAM, and although that is not 100% conclusive, it seems rare at best.

At first I believed it to be a transcription error, but a look at the original document proves this to be incorrect.

enter image description here

As to what this could possibly mean: Taken on face value it seems to mean attempting to use the alarm of the cabinet to bring about these concessions. Even if looking at enlisted as meaning obtained help from, the usage seems rather odd.

Unpopular as the view may be, Monroe could have made an error in his word choice. The phenomenon did not suddenly begin with the advent of the typewriter.

  • -1 for suggesting enlist is a typo for elicit. It may be uncommon now, but may have been quite common in 1812. – anongoodnurse Mar 11 '14 at 21:35
  • @Susan and do you have any proof of its common usage in 1812? I did a search and didn't find any instances of enlist an alarm. Ngram couldn't plot any valid data points. – David M Mar 11 '14 at 22:28
  • 2
    Susan, I hugely admire your decision to explain your downvote. Thanks! Still, "enlist an alarm" is odd enough to make David M's view that "enlist" is an error plausible. Interestingly, in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, volume 2 (1865), the editor added "[?]" after "enlisted." See books.google.com/…. – Sven Yargs Mar 11 '14 at 23:46
  • 2
    @Sven, David - I'm very impressed with your google-fu, and offer my apologies. Since you edited, I'll be quite happy not only to remove my downvote but to upvote your answer.It most certainly does look like he wrote "enlisted", not elicited, but we all win with this edit. – anongoodnurse Mar 12 '14 at 1:31
  • 2
    @Susan thanks! I didn't mean to get snippy. And, I should have "shown my work". I answered from my phone which makes that more challenging at times. – David M Mar 12 '14 at 2:26

The word enlist has the normal meaning here of

to get the support and help of (someone or something)

The sentence is

it might have enlisted an alarm of the B. Cabinet, for their Peninsular System, on the side of Concessions to us.

The presence of the phrase "on the side of Concessions to us" only makes sense if "enlisted" here means "obtained help from", so the phrase means "obtained help from an alarm of the B. Cabinet for the support of concessions to us". That is, an alarm on the part of the British Cabinet would have helped the cause of giving concessions to us, that alarm being for their Peninsular System. (I assume "peninsular" refers to Iberia here; we're in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, and Britain is fighting France in Iberia.)

  • 2
    Ultimately, I think that this is the correct interpretation. After some back and forth, I now read "enlisted an alarm of the B. Cabinet, for their Peninsular System, on the side of Concessions to us" as meaning "made use of alarm within the British Cabinet about its Peninsular System to extract concessions from the British Cabinet to the advantage of the United States." – Sven Yargs Mar 12 '14 at 0:23
  • Thanks for your response. You had written if "enlisted" here "obtained help from". Is this intended? I sense there's a verb missing? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Mar 13 '14 at 17:45

Vanity has the first meaning here, though I think self-esteem or self-importance would have been better . Vanity refers not only to the good opinion the British Government has of itself and the country, but to the fact that it is unjustified. Whether this is true or not (the accusation is still common, and not only in Britain), it has no bearing on the subject of the letter.

Enlist must here mean cause or something similar; whether this is an American usage, a 19th century meaning or Monroe's own invention I cannot tell.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.