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If Abraham Lincoln suddenly appeared today, what would be the hardest thing to explain to him about American politics today?

Quora UserQuora User, This one's for real, I already... (more)
61 upvotes by Ian McCullough, Joshua Engel, Anonymous, (more)
One thing that would have astonished Lincoln is the relative lack of open patronage and/or corruption in the job appointment process of the federal government and in particular the executive branch.  Sure, there are always big campaign donors who wind up with ambassadorships or other plum do nothing posts but as bad as you think it may be now, it is nothing compared to what it was in the late 1800's. 
 
Lincoln’s administration was probably the low water mark of political patronage in this country.  Before Lincoln was even nominated by his party, office seekers were lining up outside his hotel room door in Chicago during the 1860 Republican Convention.  There was nothing remotely subtle or hidden about their approach.  Powerful men and their patrons would demand appointment to specific jobs in exchange for critical political support.  Lincoln’s campaign manager, Judge David Davis,  was told by Lincoln not to make any binding commitments in his name during the convention.  Not only was this directive ignored (probably with a wink from Honest Abe) but Davis often promised the same job to more than one person.  This process repeated itself many times including during the run up to the House vote on the 13th Amendment as dramatized in the Lincoln movie. 
 
In truth Abe had little choice,  as this was standard operating procedure at the time and not generally frowned upon.  The only thing Lincoln really disliked about it was how much of a pain in the ass it was.  He was overwhelmed with calls and letters from appointment seekers, almost all of which he addressed or dealt with personally or through his very top advisors.  When Lincoln arrived in DC, hoards of office seekers descended on every hotel and boarding house within a 25 mile radius.  Many of them were completely unqualified for the post for which they sought appointment and at least half probably had no idea what their duties would be.  Nevertheless Lincoln had to meet with them if only to gently dissuade them or steer them into a post where they could do less damage.  One famous example was that of George Clark an old friend who bragged that he could have any office he wanted.  Clark presented himself at the White House during a reception but was kept away from the President until finally he insisted on seeing his old buddy.  Lincoln told Clark: "You don't know how glad I am to see you. The face of an old friend is like a ray of sunshine through dark and gloomy clouds. I've shook hands till I am tireder than I ever was splitting rails."   Clark asked to be appointed postmaster of Lawrence Massachusetts,  a post for which he was not even remotely qualified.  He did not get that appointment but Lincoln gave him a letter to take to the Collector of the Port of Boston instructing him to give Mr. Lincoln's friend George Clark the best position he can fill and that if he failed he should be given another and another until a fit was found. 
 
Historian Allan Nevins wrote this about the situation in Illinois after Mr. Lincoln's 1860 election to the Presidency :
"Every Republican in Congress wished to strengthen his political organization; every editor coveted a post-office connection to swell his subscription list; every jobless politician wanted a salary. The Illinois members, for example, met in conclave to draw up a slate of appointments to be requested of Lincoln. After dividing marshalships, district attorneyships, and territorial posts, they demanded a slice of foreign-service pie. Senator Lyman Trumbull wanted two consulships. Representative Elihu Washburne one, and Representative W.P. Kellogg one. Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune, meanwhile wished one of his staff made the Chicago postmaster. 'If Mr. Scripps has it,' he explained, 'the country postmasters of the Northwest would work to extend our circulation.' And Illinois was but one State! Three-quarters of the March correspondence of the typical Senator, Representative, or Cabinet member in this hour of crisis pertained to jobs. A clamor of greed and grumbling filled the capital."

While this gives Lincoln a bad reputation among many historians, Lincoln understood that careful and delicate manipulation of the appointment power was necessary if he was to keep the political support and capital to make the tough decisions that lay ahead.  Indeed for the first year of his presidency it was even money that he would not even run for a second term.  He needed to play the game and he played it well, rewarding those who needed rewarding while avoiding any real disastrous appointments. 
 
Whatever you think of government today, the modern civil service reform era helped to ensure that 99% of the federal workforce would be comprised of persons who had at least demonstrated a modicum of merit and in the case of career appointees were given posts for reasons other than their party or political affiliation.  This was unheard of in Lincoln’s time.  It was not until the Presidency of James Garfield that things started to change.  Like Lincoln, Garfield wanted to control the appointments process and even reform it to a certain extent.  Sadly, he, like Lincoln was felled by an assassin’s bullet.  A disgruntled office seeker shot and killed Garfield.  This paved the way for the first wave of what would become the modern civil service merit reform process.  Lincoln would be amazed at how far we have come.
Martin FoxMartin Fox, Let me recite what history tea... (more)
46 upvotes by Ian McCullough, Quora User, Phil Darnowsky, (more)
Well, I can't beat Ian McCullough's answer here.

But I will add that he'd probably find it odd that he was deified. The Lincoln Memorial essentially presents him as a Greek god.

Paul RennerPaul Renner, Musician, Lion Tamer, Reality ... (more)
102 upvotes by Ian McCullough, Jason McDonald, Quora User, (more)
"The five-dollar bill? The five? That drunk Grant gets on the fifty and I get the five?!?"
Chris KeatingChris Keating, Knows some stuff, makes up oth... (more)
51 upvotes by C. M. Latsha, Quora User, Cyndi Perlman Fink, (more)
He'd be surprised to see so many people complaining about the lack of civility in politics. 

In his day - well, at least in his earlier days - duels were still considered a reasonable way to address a dispute.  In his day, a Senator was beaten nearly to death by another Senator on the Senate floor.  In his day, half the country was so outraged by his election they seceded, and started a war that killed 600,000 people. 

Today, people yell at each other on TV, and hyperventilating editorialists are faux-outraged at the so-called lack of civility.  Politics is a sharp-elbowed sport, and Lincoln knew it.
Jason McDonaldJason McDonald, Vote early, vote often.
40 upvotes by Ian McCullough, Kevin McAleer, Marc Bodnick, (more)
One thing that would be distinctly different about politics today (and this was expanded on in Team of Rivals) is the degree of direct campaigning the candidate has to do for himself. Back then, most of the campaigning was farmed out to party surrogates and the candidate himself didn't do a lot of direct campaigning. In Lincoln's day, the candidate might give a speech here and there, but certainly little of the "visiting a yak-wool sweater factory in Bismarck, North Dakota" or "going on The View" PR appearances that are so prevalent today.

Also, as evidenced by the Lincoln-Douglas debates, candidates were more willing to take distinct positions instead of speaking in mostly-empty sound bytes. Lincoln in particular, who was known for being a plain-spoken guy, probably wouldn't understand how a guy can take 90 seconds to answer a question in a debate and just spew empty fluff about how great America is.
Tom ByronTom Byron, I vote. I work at the polls. I... (more)
87 upvotes by Jason McDonald, John Lee, Ian McCullough, (more)
[EDIT, thanks to Maxx A. Melendez for mentioning gold backed currency!]

If he bought something for $4.99, using a $10.00 bill with HAMILTON!? on it, he would get $5.01 change, and his face would be on both pieces of money

He would be surprised that there were 434 U.S. Representatives, and that not only were there 100 U.S. Senators, but that they were directly elected.

He would be extremely pleased to see these new amendments (among others):
• The 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865 abolishing slavery.
• The 17 Amendment was ratified April 8, 1913 allowing direct election of U.S. Senators.
• The 19th Amendment was ratified August 18, 1920 allowing women to vote.
• The 26th Amendment was ratified July 1, 1971 allowed 18 year olds to vote.

These amendments would amaze him! But, he would be more amazed to see the Confederate flag still being flown in some places.

The Presidency has survived additional assassinations, and there have been two world wars. (The atomic bomb would be hard to explain.) The debates in congress would be a lot more tedious than they were in his day, and maybe too many lawyers? The women and the African American members would probably shock him AND please him! He would be glad to see all the secret service protection surrounding him!!

Politics has stayed the same, a lot of long winded people arguing about every thing just like it was in 1863, etc etc. Having to vote electronically might take a few minutes to explain.

He would be stunned to find that there was television, and the debates in the congress were viewable across the country. But the making of laws would still be an ugly process as it was when he last listened to them debate.

He would be pleased that the country has survived stock market crashes, race riots, massive earthquakes, and horses and buggies were still in use by the Amish people.
Steve BlackSteve Black, Uneducated, uncouth and becomi... (more)
That people in some states can still carry guns to the Theatre.
Gary TealGary Teal, Republican
21 upvotes by Marc Bodnick, Ian McCullough, Aman Anand, (more)
I don't think he'd have any problem at all understanding the way the system works today, because in the end it's close to the way it worked then. Certainly he'd be blown away by the same things that would be striking to anyone from that era: racial and gender equality as a realistic legal requirement (and not merely a slogan or lofty but empty ideal), and of course technology. But social media is big in politics today not because it's a paradigm-shifting new way to win a campaign. It's because it's the closest thing to the way campaigns were won before mass media and direct mail existed; it's individuals telling their friends and family who to vote for and why.
AnonymousAnonymous
35 upvotes by Tom Byron, Gary Teal, Quora User, (more)
That a black man representing his home state was elected twice to the Presidency.
Nick BailyNick Baily, Charming
8 upvotes by Quora User, Tom Byron, Quora User, (more)
If he returned to our midst by plane he would have a hell of a time figuring out which car service was supposed to pick him up given the dozens of black towncars outside the terminal with his name on them.
Thomas JohnsonThomas Johnson, Just your average speculator..... (more)
13 upvotes by Martijn Vos, Martin Fox, Sérgio Afonso, (more)
That the Republican party is now the party of the Confederate States while the Democrat Party took off the white robes and became the dominant party of the industrial North.  And that it happened almost 100 years to the day after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Graeme ShimminGraeme Shimmin, amateur military historian.
47 upvotes by Quora User, Torlyn Holstein, Quora User, (more)
He probably wouldn't be too happy to discover he is now unelectable.

His ugliness and high pitched speaking voice would mean he has no chance whatsoever of getting elected these days.

Similarly, his lack of religious belief would make him unelectable. He had to skate around it it in his own time, but that kind of avoidance would be impossible with today's negative campaigning.
Fred LandisFred Landis, Investigative Reporter
8 upvotes by Jason McDonald, Anonymous, Daniel Spector, (more)
TV pundits and People magazine suggesting ways he could improve his appearance by shaving his beard and improving his wardrobe.
Quora UserQuora User, surrealist poet, engineer, pub... (more)
Why he ought not to call Star Trek's Lt. Uhura (portrayed by Nichelle Nichols) "a charming negress"). The politics of race and gender equality would be stunning developments that would shake a mid-19th century mind, even as exceptional a one as Lincoln's, down to its foundations.
 
John DeeverJohn Deever, Writer
7 upvotes by Daniel Spector, Matt Decuir, Nipun Garg, (more)
Every person in the country has a device in his or her pocket with the entire compendium of the world's knowledge available on it.

They use these devices to watch cat videos, argue with strangers, and send lewd photos of themselves.
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