A Struggling Planter in a Young Nation (1804-1812):
Debt, bankruptcy, failure! All of these words likely entered Andrew Jackson's mind in 1804. Because of trade restrictions resulting from a war between Britain and France, the economy of the United States dried up. For Westerners like Jackson, the restrictions meant higher prices, less cash, and more debt, Jackson had gone into debt buying land that he hoped to sell later for profit, but because of the poor economy, people were afraid to buy. Jackson's debts forced him to sell his valuable riverfront farm and buy the largely undeveloped Hermitage.
He used his profits to pay his debts and immediately began shaping The Hermitage into a productive cotton farm. In addition, Jackson and his business partners founded a general store, tavern, boatyard, and horse breeding and racing operations at nearby Clover Bottom in 1805. After two years, Clover Bottom proved unprofitable so Jackson sold his interests and focused his moneymaking efforts on agricultural production at The Hermitage.
While Jackson struggled with debts, his political and social standing also fell. Jackson had enjoyed success as a politician, and served as Tennessee's Congressman, Senator, and Major General of the Tennessee Militia. In 1804, Jackson's friends suggested that President Jefferson make him governor of the Louisiana Territory, but Jefferson passed over his nomination. Two years later, Jackson unwittingly entangled himself in Aaron Burr's political intrigues. At the same time, Jackson's sense of honor led him to a series of disputes that included street fights and challenges to duels. He settled nearly all of these peacefully, except one. In May 1806, Jackson killed Charles Dickinson in a duel over a horse race, while he himself took a bullet in the chest but survived. For many in Tennessee, Jackson's star was falling and he had earned a reputation as hot tempered. Jackson spent his first years at The Hermitage retreating from public life, not only escaping debt but also rebuilding his name.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France, doubling the territory of the United States. Jackson saw Louisiana as a great opportunity for him to solve his money woes by becoming governor. In the summer of 1804, Jackson learned that Jefferson had picked another man. Out of choices and needing cash, he started selling property including his farm.
Jackson and his business partners sold a wide variety of goods at the Clover Bottom store. They imported most merchandise from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans providing customers with current fashions and products.
Andrew Jackson knew Charles Dickerson was a better marksman, so he decided to allow Dickinson to shoot first and if he lived, he could take deliberate aim at him. Dickinson wounded Jackson in the chest, but he stayed on his feet and fatally shot his foe. The whole affair shocked Nashville as many thought the disagreement between the two men petty and both should have risen above it. Ultimately, it earned Jackson a reputation as a violent man. When he ran for president, his opponents used it against him in prints and broadsides.
Aaron Burr served as Vice-President of the U.S. under Jefferson, but in 1804, he killed rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel. He tried to recoup his position by traveling west. His precise intentions were unclear but President Jefferson became convinced he was attempting to form a new country in Texas or the Louisiana Purchase. Andrew Jackson became involved with Burr by selling him boats and entertaining him at The Hermitage. Although acquitted after being arrested and tried for treason, Burr was disgraced and association with Burr did not help Jackson's reputation.
Jackson found another means of making money by building a cotton gin and press and ginning his neighbors' cotton for a fee.