The last time the U.S. held almost no debt was about two centuries ago.
So how did [President Andrew] Jackson do it? Well, for one thing, he collected more cash—sorry, raised revenue—by jacking up import tariffs. But something else also happened. Uncle Sam balanced his budget on the back of an unsustainable, wildly-speculative land-buying frenzy that occurred during Jackson’s stint at the White House. Federal receipts from the sale of lands surged from $1.5 million in 1829, the first year of the Jackson administration, to $14.8 million in 1835. Expenditures stayed roughly flat over the same period. That’s a recipe for instant, sizable surpluses.
And how did the federal government come to have all this land to sell? Why, by removing the people who lived on it, en masse. The expulsion of Native Americans from the southeastern United States serves as a sizable black mark on Jackson’s tenure as president and on the country’s history. According to estimates, around 100,000 Native Americans were removed and 4,000 people died on the forced trek west known as the Trail of Tears.
The numbers, a chart, and more details are at the link. But it suffices to say that didn’t work out well.