"I knew he'd be acquitted; I knew it," declared Eliza Johnson when 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, and her courage had dictated that all White House social events should continue as usual.
That faith began to develop many years before in east Tennessee, when Andrew Johnson first came to Greeneville and established a tailor shop. Eliza McCardle was not quite 16 then and Andrew only 17. Local tradition tells that on the day she first saw him she said to a girl friend, "There goes my beau!" She married him within a year, on May 17, 1827.
Eliza was born in 1810, the daughter of a shoemaker. Fortunately she had received a good basic education that she was delighted to share with Andrew. He already knew his letters and could read a bit, so she taught him writing and arithmetic. Her skill at keeping a house and bringing up a family - five children, in all - had much to do with Johnson's rapid rise to success. When the Civil War came and east Tennessee remained loyal to the Union, President Lincoln sent Andrew Johnson to Nashville as military governor. Rebel forces caught Eliza at home with part of the family. Only after months of uncertainty did they rejoin Andrew 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, Eliza Johnson found little pleasure in her husband's position as president. At the White House, her second-floor room was the center of activities for a large family including two sons, a widowed daughter and her children, and an older daughter Martha Patterson with her husband and their children. As a schoolgirl, Martha had often been the Polks' guest at the Executive Mansion; now she took up its social duties. She was a competent, unpretentious, and gracious hostess even during the impeachment crisis.
At the end of her husband's term, Eliza returned with relief to their home in Tennessee, restored from wartime vandalism. She lived to see the legislature of her state vindicate Andrew’s career by electing him to the Senate in 1875. She survived him by nearly six months, dying at the Pattersons' home in 1876.
Martha Johnson Patterson