Eliza McCardle Johnson
Biography: "I knew he'd be acquitted; I knew it," declared Eliza
McCardle Johnson, told how the Senate had voted in her husband's impeachment trial. Her
faith in him had never wavered during those difficult days in 1868, when
her courage dictated that all White House social events should continue
That faith began to develop many years before in east Tennessee, when
Andrew Johnson first came to Greeneville, across the mountains from North
Carolina, and established a tailor shop. Eliza was almost 16 then and
Andrew only 17; and local tradition tells of the day she first saw him.
He was driving a blind pony hitched to a small cart, and she said to a
girl friend, "There goes my beau!" She married him within a year, on May
Eliza was the daughter of Sarah Phillips and John McCardle, a shoemaker.
Fortunately she had received a good basic education that she was
delighted to share with her new husband. He already knew his letters and
could read a bit, so she taught him writing and arithmetic. With their
limited means, her skill at keeping a house and bringing up a family--five children, in all--had much to do with Johnson's success.
He rose rapidly, serving in the state and national legislatures and as
governor. Like him, when the Civil War came, people of east Tennessee
remained loyal to the Union; Lincoln sent him to Nashville as military
governor in 1862. Rebel forces caught Eliza at home with part of the
family. Only after months of uncertainty did they rejoin Andrew Johnson
in Nashville. By 1865 a soldier son and son-in-law had died, and Eliza
was an invalid for life.
Quite aside from the tragedy of Lincoln's death, she found little
pleasure in her husband's position as President. At the White House, she
settled into a second-floor room that became the center of activities for
a large family: her two sons, her widowed daughter Mary Stover and her
children; her older daughter Martha with her husband, Senator David T.
Patterson, and their children. As a schoolgirl Martha had often been the
Polks' guest at the mansion; now she took up its social duties. She was
a competent, unpretentious, and gracious hostess even during the
At the end of Johnson's term, Eliza returned with relief to her home in
Tennessee, restored from wartime vandalism. She lived to see the
legislature of her state vindicate her husband's career by electing him
to the Senate in 1875, and survived him by nearly six months, dying at
the Pattersons' home in 1876.