BY JOHN M. JONES JR.
Greene Countians know much about the remarkable life and political career of Andrew Johnson, but much less is known about the woman he married -- and who undoubtedly played a crucial role in his career.
Johnson was less than 20 years old and actually a runaway tailor's apprentice from Raleigh, N.C., when he happened to come to the village of Greeneville, Tenn., in the year 1826.
Because there was a need for another tailor in Greeneville, and that was his trade, he decided to stay. It was a fateful decision.
Andy Johnson not only established himself as a capable local tailor. He also married a local girl, Eliza McCardle, who was then a bright young woman of 16.
That proved to be another crucially important decision, for Eliza, who was well educated for her age and loved to read, played a vital role in helping her husband become the well informed, forceful orator and political leader who ultimately became the nation's 17th President.
TO BE FEATURED MON.
The country is about to find out much more about Eliza Johnson than has previously been common knowledge, when C-SPAN focuses on her Monday evening as part of a special series on the wives of the U.S. Presidents.
In Greeneville, the series airs on C-SPAN each Monday night at 9 p.m. on Comcast cable television.
Andy Och of C-SPAN is the producer of the 35-part series, and he led a C-SPAN crew who came to Greeneville earlier this month to research Eliza Johnson for the series installment on her.
In Greeneville, he received much assistance from the staff of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, and especially worked with Museum Technician Kendra Hinkle of the NHS.
In fact, C-SPAN is bringing Hinkle to Washington, D.C., to take part live in the broadcast Monday evening.
Each episode of the series, spokesperson Laura Finch explained, is part taped footage, part live panel. Finch said that Kendra Hinkle would be participating live on the program as an expert on Mrs. Johnson.
WHAT C-SPAN FOUND
So, what sort of person was Eliza McCardle Johnson? An interesting woman? Strong? Weak? Perhaps both?
A news release from C-SPAN includes the following about her:
"'My dears, I am an invalid' -- Eliza Johnson's first words to reporters as she then turns around and heads up the stairs to the second floor of the White House -- where she spends much of her time as First Lady.
"Married at 16 to Andrew Johnson, they build a life together in Tennessee -- where she is integral in his education and helping him succeed in a life of politics.
"A great orator, she diligently stays abreast of current events and clips newspaper articles for him that become talking points for his speeches.
"As he continues his rise in politics -- leading him to Washington -- she stays behind and helps run the family businesses and finances.
"Ardent supporters of the Union, when the Civil War comes, they are branded traitors in their home state, their home is confiscated, and their lives are put in danger.
"With this and the tumultous Reconstruction period as a backdrop, we explore the life and times of First Lady Eliza Johnson.
"By the time she reaches the White House, her tuberculosis renders her weak, but the room on the second floor that she chooses to live in is directly across the hall from her husband's office.
"From this perch she meets with him daily, and while she appears infrequently in public, her usefulness to him behind the scenes, especially during his impeachment trial, and her ability to run the home are important parts of her story."