Wilson v. United States was a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1892 on whether or not a citizen of the United States had the right to sue the federal government. The case had its origins in the mistreatment of veterans in the wake of the Alaskan War, in particular many of those who fought in the Pacific Northwest, but eventually challenged the idea of sovereign immunity as a whole. John Wilson, a Floridian who spent six months returning home by horse after only receiving a hundred dollars from the US Army, concurrently sued the US Army, War Department and former Secretary of War Donald Laws in 1889 for mistreating him after he had involuntarily served in the Army after being drafted. The federal government argued that it could not be sued as it had federal immunity; Wilson's lawyers argued that the suit was legitimate as he was suing for damages after having provided the federal government a service. A lower court sided with Wilson and advised the War Department to settle with veterans who could prove with papers they had fought, but the appeals court sided with the government, stating that no individual could breach sovereign immunity and that the federal government had not agreed to be sued.
The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, favored Wilson and his lawyers, stating that sovereign immunity could protect the federal government unless an employee or representative of the federal government was suing for damages, as was allowable under other employment laws that the Court had upheld as constitutional. In a concurrence with the majority, Justice Robert Combs stated that he believed that only those who had been drafted involuntarily into service had a right to seek damages or reparations, but that those who volunteered did not, as they had "entered into a covenant and bond with the federal government to provide a service and were aware upon entering that bond of the stakes," finding that those who were drafted did not fight on their own accord and thus were eligible to sue the government if they believed that their compensation was unfair. It was a major landmark ruling, severely weakening the then-strong central government. In 1900, the Court used Wilson v. United States to clarify the 11th Amendment and its provisions for sovereign immunity in regards to a state suing the government.