Illinois National Guard

The Old Guard
Tomb of the Unknown
Rifle Volley
21 Gun Salute
Use of Flags
Caparisoned Horse
Wars (Past & Present)
    21-Gun Salute
    All personal salutes may be traced to the prevailing use in earlier days to ensure that the saluter placed himself in an unarmed position. Salute by gunfire is the most ancient of these traditions. For years, the British compelled weaker nations to make the first salute, but in time international practice compelled "Gun for Gun" in the principle of an equality of nations.

In the earliest days, seven guns was a recognized British National Salute. Those early regulations stated that, although a ship could fire only seven guns, the forts could fire for honors three shots to one shot afloat. In that day powder of sodium nitrate was easier to keep on shore than at sea. In time, when the quality of gun powder improved by the use of potassium nitrate, the sea salute was made equal to the shore salute 21 guns as the highest national honor. Although for a period of time, monarchies received more guns than republics, eventually republics claimed equality.

There was much confusion caused by the varying customs of maritime states, but finally the British government proposed to the United States a regulation that provided for "Salute to be Returned Gun for Gun." The British at that time officially considered the international salute to be 21 guns and the United States adopted the 21-gun and "Gun for Gun Return" on Aug. 17, 1875. Previous to that time, our national salute was one gun for each state. The practice was also a result of usage - John Paul Jones saluted France with 13 guns (one for each state) at Quiberon Bay when the Stars and Stripes received its first salute. This practice was not authorized until 1810.

By the admission of states to the Union, the salute reached 21 guns by 1818. In 1841, the national salute was reduced to 21 guns. In fact, the 1875 adoption of the British suggestion because a formal announcement that the United States recognized 21 guns as an international salute.