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Of Andrew and Eliza McCardle Johnson

American presidents get a lot of publicity. They are constantly in the news. All presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama have no doubt relished or detested the publicity they have received depending on what the media has published or aired about them and their administration. American citizens, due to having access to information about their presidents, can make an informed decision on how each president is performing his job. Of course some of the publicity about a president is filtered through a prism of bias, but the American people are intelligent enough to cut through that bias and discern what is true and what is false.
But a very important part of a president’s life and perhaps his administration as well is his wife. During my lifetime I have noticed that some first ladies have been given little publicity although a few have figured prominently in history.
One first lady I want to consider in this column is Eliza McCardle Johnson; wife of Andrew Johnson, The 17th president of the United States.
The study of the life and presidency of Andrew Johnson is a fascinating journey from his humble birth December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina to his death July 31, 1875 near Carter’s Station, Tennessee. I am very interested in the life of President Andrew Johnson because he was a resident of Greeneville, Tennessee, which is only a short drive away from Johnson County.
His wife figured prominently in his advancement in the political realm. He is said to have never spent a single day in a schoolroom. He came from a very poor family. He learned the tailor trade by being apprenticed to a tailor in North Carolina and he later set up his tailor shop in Greeneville.
On May 5, 1827, Johnson married Eliza McCardle who taught him to write and read. This no doubt was a turning point in his life. Along with his reading and writing ability, he had a natural flair for oratory. His intellect and speechmaking ability served him well as he ascended from alderman of Greeneville to mayor, to Congress, to the Senate to Governor of Tennessee, to Vice-President to President.
Unfortunately, First Lady Johnson was suffering with tuberculosis when her husband became president and their oldest daughter, Martha Johnson Patterson, was chosen to assume the social duties while Andrew Johnson was president. But Eliza Johnson’s teaching her husband to write and read could have been the catalyst that unleashed his political savvy that enabled him to attain greatness. She should be remembered for making a valuable contribution to Andrew Johnson’s illustrious career.
Eliza McCardle was born October 4, 1810 in Leesburg, Tennessee. She was 54 at becoming First Lady. She died January 15, 1876 in Greene County, Tennessee, less than a year after her husband’s death.
The life of Eliza Johnson is very interesting to me. She endured much hardship during the Civil War due to her husband’s loyalty to the Union. I believe the readers of my column would find a more detailed study of her life and times interesting also.