I have recieved your petition praying for the discharge of your son Jehiel Goff from military service on the ground of his being under age … the discharge in such a case does not rest on the will of the military alone, but that on your application to a judge of the US. he will issue a Habeas Corpus & the fact of infancy will be enquired into under the civil authority, & the discharge be ordered by the same. as this process may be troublesome to you, you need not resort to it, unless in the enquiry ordered by the military officer, he should decide the fact contrary to what you deem proveable; in which case the Habeas Corpus will furnish you relief.
To Aaron Goff, August 13, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Again, thoughtful leaders provide options.
Jefferson forwarded Goff’s petition for his son’s discharge from the army to the Secretary of War, who had the authority to act on it. But there was another authority, a non-military one, Goff should know about.
A civil judge could command the boy’s presence in court (habeas corpus) and order his release if the facts warranted it. It wasn’t a simple process, but it was an option. Goff might prefer to let the military investigation proceed and revert to civil procedure only of the army refused to discharge his son.
For a different take on the same issue, see this 12-17-17 post, “Get your hands off him.”