Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special: Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, which originated as a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War.  (It’s also a federal holiday, so please excuse the late post!)  Not too many comic book characters go back to the Civil War, but there is at least one character who participated in it, namely Wolverine.  While the mainstream continuity version of Wolverine was born in the late 1880s, the film version—as shown in X-Men Origins: Wolverine—was born in 1845 and fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union.

Naturally, Wolverine didn’t die in the Civil War, so he doesn’t quite fit the bill for Memorial Day.  But his Civil War veteran status raises an interesting question: could he qualify for a pension?

The Civil War marked a major expansion in military pensions with the passage of a new military pension act on July 14, 1862.  However, pensions were initially only available to soldiers who had been injured or disabled in the line of duty.  17 Stat. 566-69 (1863).  Given his healing factor, Wolverine wouldn’t qualify.  The Dependent and Disability Pension Act of 1890 removed the battlefield injury requirement but still limited pensions to veterans who had become unable to perform manual labor.  Once again, Wolverine is out of luck.

Finally, in 1907, the McCumber bill expanded pensions to include all Civil War veterans who served at least 90 days and were at least 62 years old.  34 Stat. 879 (1907).  Born in 1845, Wolverine would qualify beginning the same year the bill was passed.  Under the new law, he would collect $12/month at 62, $15/month at 70, and $20/month at 75.  That $20 would be $462 in today’s money, or $5500/year.  Later laws increased the pension amounts somewhat but they were never indexed to inflation.

So could Wolverine have collected that pension in perpetuity?  He probably could have.  The government continued to pay pensions to Civil War veterans and their families long after the war ended.  Gertrude Janeway, a widow of a Civil War veteran, collected a widow’s pension until she died in 2003.  As of 2009 there were still two children of Civil War veterans drawing veterans’ benefits.

On the other hand, a few hundred dollars a year hardly seems worth exposing his immortal status over, not to mention that attracting the attention of the military is probably pretty low on his list of priorities.  Still, it’s nice to know that, as a veteran, Wolverine would continue to be supported for his service to the US government.

13 responses to “Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special: Memorial Day

  1. James Pollock

    Are we assuming he’s been drawing a pension for 100 years now, or are we assuming he walks into an office today and demands his back pay from the bureaucracy? Because I can see problems both ways.

    • I don’t think the laws authorized back pay. I’m not sure drawing benefits for 100+ years is a problem, actually, since a few veterans and their widows and/or orphans drew pensions for that long or even longer. It’s true that Congress probably didn’t intend for anyone to draw a pension in perpetuity, but I don’t think $30/month is going to break the bank.

      It wouldn’t be the first time the government has found itself on the hook for benefits it would probably just as soon stop giving. For example, at least eight people received legal marijuana from the federal government as part of the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug program, four of whom were still alive as of 2010. They have been receiving the equivalent of about 320-360 marijuana cigarettes per month for decades. The marijuana itself is grown at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s National Center for Natural Products Research’s Medicinal Plant Garden. I have no doubt that the program is somewhat embarrassing to the government at this point, but it continues nonetheless.

  2. Wouldn’t Wolverine’s status as a Canadian citizen affect this? Or do we assume he holds dual citizenship?

    • James Pollock

      Foreign citizens can (and have) serve in the U.S. military.

      • I knew that, but I wasn’t sure they were entitled to pensions. But people employed by foreign companies get pensions from those companies, so it’s not that much different. I guess I was thinking of it as more like Social Security than an employer pension.

    • TimothyAWiseman

      We had two foreign nationals in my Basic Training class and there were programs to assist them with getting their citizenship.

    • It appears not. Sec. 1 of the aforementioned 1907 statute reads, in relevant part,

      [A]ny person who served ninety days or more in the military or naval service of the United States during the late civil war . . . and who has been honorably discharged therefrom, and who has reached the age of sixty-two years or over, shall . . . be entitled to receive a pension . . . .

      Act of Feb. 6, 1907, Ch. 468, § 1, 34 Stat. 879. So far as I am aware, “person” is usually understood as encompassing both aliens and citizens; and this particular statute doesn’t seem to indicate otherwise. So even if Wolverine only held Canadian citizenship, it appears he’d still be entitled to a pension under this law.

      • So the next question would be: Was he honorably discharged? (which we can only speculate)

  3. This is still showing the utterly bizarre behavior where some posts, when viewed, are formatted using the “mobile theme” and others aren’t. I’m not on a mobile device; could there be a bug in detecting that?

    • Oh, and I refreshed the page and it kept using the mobile theme… but I posted that message, refreshed it again, and it stopped using the mobile theme.

    • Send me an email ( with your browser and operating system information. A screenshot would be helpful, too, if you can reproduce the problem.

  4. He was also shown to serve in WWII and Vietnam. Given that each branch has age limits for applicants (both new and returning), this brings up a question for me. Is there a limit to his eligibility, or would his healing factor and slow aging allow him to basically enter the service whenever he wanted?

    • James Pollock

      Military age requirements (actually age limitations) are applied for two reasons, only one of which is addressed by a mutant healing factor that grants eternal (relative) youth. One of those reasons uses age (“you’re too old”) as a proxy for fitness (“we’re afraid you’ll have a heart attack and die before the enemy gets a chance to shoot at you.” So perhaps Wolverine would be able to get a waiver of some kind, or, even more likely, maybe he just gets puzzled looks when he tells the recruiter “look, bub, I’m almost 170 years old”.
      The other considerations, however, is “up or out”, which is an organizational defense against the Peter Principle. If a person gets “stuck” at a specific rank, they get shown the door after a while. Considering that once you reach the mid-levels, political skill accounts for more and more of the “merit” that goes into promotion decisions, I think Wolverine would have been involuntarily retired no matter HOW physically fit he still is.

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