Headed for Heaven or Hell?

ABRAHAM LINCOLN ran for Congress in 1846, and he faced a formidable opponent: Peter Cartwright. Cartwright, a raw-boned, circuit-riding Methodist preacher, was known throughout Illinois. During his sixty-five years of riding the circuit, he would baptize nearly ten thousand converts.

During the intense 1846 Congressional campaign, some of Cartwright’s followers accused Lincoln of being an “infidel.” In response, Lincoln decided to meet Cartwright on his own ground and attend one of his evangelistic rallies.


Carl Sandburg, in Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, tells the story this way:

In due time Cartwright said “All who desire to lead a new life, to give their hearts to God, and go to heaven, will stand,” and a sprinkling of men, women, and children stood up. Then the preacher exhorted, “All who do not wish to go to hell will stand.” All stood up—except Lincoln. Then said Cartwright in his gravest voice, “I observe that many responded to the first invitation to give their hearts to God and go to heaven. And I further observe that all of you save one indicated that you did not desire to go to hell. The sole exception is Mr. Lincoln, who did not respond to either invitation. May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where are you going?”
And Lincoln slowly rose and slowly spoke. “I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress.”
He went.
By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #33 in 1992]

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