Surveyor John Donelson and his wife Rachel were founders of Nashville, Tennessee, first arriving before the end of the Revolution. Among their children, their eldest daughter was Jane and youngest was Rachel. Revolutionary War hero Col. Robert Hays came to the area after the war and married Jane. The 21 year old Andrew Jackson moved there in 1788 to begin his rise from orphaned obscurity to President of the United States. As fate would have it, he lived as a boarder at the Donelson home. The younger Rachel Donelson was a frontier aristocrat, and in an unhappy marriage. She and Jackson fell in love and, with Rachel divorced, they married. The relationship between the sisters Jane and Rachel was a very close one, and the Jacksons doted on the Hays children. Col. Hays sold his 420-acre farm to the Jacksons in 1804, and this became the Hermitage. Before constructing the Hermitage building, the Jacksons moved into an existing two-story log blockhouse, built by Hays to resist Indian attacks. When Col. Hays died young, the Jacksons interested themselves in the raising of the Hays children.
The eldest son of Col. Robert and Jane Donelson Hays was Stokely D. Hays, whom Jackson used to spy on Aaron Burr during the incident in Louisiana for which Burr was later indicted for treason. Stokely was also a principal in the bloody battle between Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton, in which Jackson was almost killed. Samuel Jackson Hays, named after his uncle, was the youngest son. Jackson was ever the romantic and sought to find matches for his nieces, nephews and wards. In 1811 he married Stokely to his ward Lydia Butler, and Stokely’s sister Patsy Hays to Lydia’s brother (and Jackson’s ward) Dr. William E. Butler. Later he would perform the same type of service for Samuel. Some years later the Hays and Butler families removed to western Tennessee, where they founded the town of Jackson in Madison County.
The nemesis of the Hays, Butler, and Jackson families were the Crocketts. It all started when Davy Crockett moved to Jackson in 1823 and beat Dr. Butler for a seat in the Tennessee legislature for which Butler considered himself a shoo-in. Crockett campaigned against Butler as an “aristocrat” who had carpets on his floors and could not understand the needs of the common man. Enmity developed directly between Crockett and Jackson when Crockett, now a U.S. Congressman, switched loyalties from supporting Jackson to opposing him. The split with the President occurred over several issues, including Jackson's securing the Indian removal bill and his opposition to the Bank of the United States. In 1830 Jackson intended to name Stokely Hays to the desirable position of Registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Clinton, Mississippi. Jackson showed that a negative personal dynamic had grown between him and Crockett, noting that "…in order to mortify me his appointment will be opposed in the Senate and Crockett…will represent him as intemperate…" In his 1831 campaign for a third term, Crockett openly and vehemently attacked Jackson's policies and was defeated in a close election by William Fitzgerald. Jackson castigated Crockett for being a tool and mouthpiece of his foes, and for making personal attacks to stir up trouble for his family, writing Samuel Hays: "I trust for the honor of the state, your Congressional District will not disgrace themselves longer by sending that profligate man Crockett back to Congress. You have judged rightly in the matter, in withholding from Col. Stokely D. Hays the information of Crockett’s conduct toward him if the result would have been an attack by Col. Hays on him. My view in communicating it, was that those who had recommended him might be informed of his base course as a machine in the hands of my enemies…" Stokely received the appointment but died very shortly after. As for Crockett, in 1833 he returned to Congress by beating Fitzgerald and became a favorite of the Whig Party, where he led the anti-Jackson chorus. In 1835 pro-Jackson forces ousted him from Congress, leading him to make his fateful move to Texas. After Davy's death at the Alamo, his son John Wesley Crockett picked up where his father left off; he was an avowed enemy of Andrew Jackson, and served in his father's old seat as a Whig in Congress from 1837-1841.
Samuel Hays came to the White House at age 23 at the start of his uncle's administration to act as his secretary, and was, according to the "Papers of Andrew Jackson," one of the principal characters in Jackson's first year in office. By all accounts Hays was quite a gay blade; he ran up an enormous haberdasher's bill in Washington, which his uncle paid, and attended parties, flirting with eligible young ladies of society. Jackson's letters show him planning to send Hays to school, fretting over Hays' lack of serious ambition, but also intervening to arrange Hays' marriage to blueblood Frances Middleton, of both the Arthur Middleton and Thomas Pinckney families. After he left Washington and returned to West Tennessee, Hays was seen as the President's protege, and became a target for the President's enemies. In 1839, he was brought up on charges of some kind, but was vindicated. He ended up as a prominent business and political figure, and a delegate of Tennessee to the Southwestern Convention of 1845, called to set policy for railroad expansion into the region. He was a long-time friend of Jefferson Davis, who it is said offered Hays a position as a Confederate general; and though he declined, he outfitted a company for the Confederate service.
Autograph letter signed, Hermitage, June 15, 1839, to Samuel Hays, stating his motto that truth will win in the end, attributing malice and evil intent to his political enemies, whom Jackson maintains falsely attack not merely him but his family, showing pleasure over the rise of future president Polk, assailing the Whig Party and accusing its leader former president John Quincy Adams of dishonesty, and blasting that scamp Crockett. "I have just received your kind letter of the 9th…I cannot convey to you that grateful sensation your statement of the result of your trial has inspired - altho I knew malice and perjury had produced that charge; still that charge being upon record, there was nothing but those proceedings that are now on record could have shielded you & your dear children from the malignant tongue of slander of your enemies and the base. There is no virtue and honesty, however pure, can shield one nowadays from the slander of the modern Whiggism, and I have no doubt but this attempt at your character has originated from that source, to prostrate you and prevent your promotion & rising fame. However base and unworthy the tool employed in this wicked attempt, whenever developed, you will find it originated from the higher influence and Whig sources. But thank God the record pronouncing it frivolous and malicious, and the court taxing the prosecutor with the costs is an everlasting shield to your character, & that of your dear family. Truth is mighty and will always ultimately prevail - it is the attribute of duty. You may rest assured my dear friend, & so say to all our connections & friends in your section of country, that you & they cannot be more anxious to see me than I am them, & as soon as I can, I intend to pay them a visit - of the time, as soon as my health and other circumstances will permit, I will advise you. Gen. Robert Armstrong has promised to accompany me…It would be a great comfort & pleasure for me to be able to travel & see & mix with our friends, but I am in the hands of that all-wise providence who does all things well & for the best, & to his will I implicitly submit…My little white family are all now in good health, & all unite with me in kind regards to you, my dear Frances, and the children…& add our respects to all our connections in your section of country, and remain your affectionate uncle." He then continued in a PS: "The democratic republican cause is brightening with us & in the eastern part of the state. Polk is sure of a majority in east Tennessee..." And, Jackson adds, in local races, "from all accounts I can get, Burton is gaining fast & will beat [John] Bell" in a number of counties. He strongly warns Hays that "You must not permit that hypocritical scamp Crockett to be elected - he is the mere tool of Bell & J.Q. Adams, without principle or talents & has become a good Whig by learning the art of lying & slandering good & honest men. Virginia has done well, I received the returns last night. The legislature will have a majority of two. Rives is consigned to that fate which is allotted to an unprincipled apostate - contempt of all honest men." On the fourth page of the letter is a fine Jackson Free Frank with stamped Nashville postmark, with address panel addressed to Hays in Jackson, Madison County.
James K. Polk, a close Jackson ally, was running for Governor of Tennessee, and was elected. Before six more years were up, he would be President of the United States. John Quincy Adams was Jackson's predecessor as President; Jackson believed Adams had stolen the 1824 election from him, and was, by extension here, "without principle." By 1839, Adams was a leader of the Whig Party Jackson excoriated, and serving in the House of Representatives was the strongest anti-slavery voice in the country, while Jackson held hundreds of slaves. William C. Rives was U.S. Senator from Virginia, once a Jacksonian but by then a Whig. Jackson considered him a turncoat. Bell was a member of Congress from Tennessee, also a Jacksonian-turned-Whig. He won the election despite Jackson's optimism in this letter, and in 1860 was the Constitutional Union Party's candidate for president. When Jackson's health improved in 1840, he did indeed venture to West Tennessee to see his Hays relations.