By: Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian
Over a time span of the last 13 years, I have written this weekly column titled “This N That.” During that time I have written several columns on the life and times of various United States presidents. Recently, I realized I have written little about the wives of those presidents. In this column I want to write about the wife of one of my favorite presidents: President Andrew Johnson. His wife was Eliza McCardle who had a great deal of influence on him in his early life. I suppose President Johnson is my favorite because he became president under a great deal of pressure and served his country in a time of great upheaval, politically and societal. Moreover, his hometown Greeneville, Tennessee is home to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. The site has a lot of interesting displays concerning his life and presidency, including his tailor shop and home.
Johnson married Eliza McCardle on May 17, 1827 (some sources give it as May 5, 1827). She was 16.He was 17. She was a daughter of John and Sarah Phillips. John was a shoemaker. While her husband had no formal schooling, she is said to have had some basic education and used her knowledge to help her husband achieve some proficiency in writing and arithmetic, thereby paving the way to his success.
While on his upward political climb, Eliza took care of the home front in Greeneville, raising their five children. Their children were Charles, Robert, Andrew Jr., Martha and Mary. Eliza became First Lady at the age of 54. Due to Eliza’s illness, President Johnson asked Martha, his oldest daughter, to assume social duties in the White House. And she did so quite well.
Eliza was born on October 4, 1810 in Leesburg, Tennessee. She died January 15, 1876 in Greene County, Tennessee and is buried in Greeneville, Tennessee. President Johnson was impeached for no good reason (Congress tried to usurp the power of the presidency which would have disrupted the traditional view of the three branches of government as independent from the other.) He was acquitted of the charge. Eliza felt that he would be acquitted and never lost faith in him during that trying time.
After her husband’s term ended, She went back to their home in Greeneville, she saw him elected to the Senate in 1875. She lived six months following her husband’s death.