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U.S. Makes Treaty with Muslim Sultan in the Philippines
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[PHILIPPINES]. Facsimile of original treaty ceding sovereignty of the Archipelago of Jolo to the United States. Jolo [Province of Sulu, Philippines], August 20, 1899. Bound in 20th century cloth, comprising a large three-page lithographed facsimile of the manuscript treaty written in the Tausug language and signed in print by the Sultan of Jolo and Brig. General John C. Bates, 16½ x 12 in. With a small format copy of the document in English, the first leaf mimeographed, the final leaf lithographed with facsimile signatures.

Inventory #24064       Price: $900

Historical Background

The Sultanate of Sulu began in the early 15th century and once included the northeastern side of Borneo and many islands to the northeast, including the island of Jolo. By the late 19th century, it had been reduced to a string of islands under Spanish occupation rule. The Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War transferred control of the Philippines, including the Sulu, to the United States. The sultanate was home to several ethnic groups, including the Moro and Tausug.

On August 20, 1899, the United States signed this treaty with Sultan Hadji Mohammed Jamalul Kiram II and several of his tribal chiefs. The “Bates Treaty,” after General John C. Bates, recognized U.S. sovereignty over the whole archipelago of Jolo. The U.S. agreed to protect the sultan and his subjects and not to sell any island in the archipelago to any other nation without the sultan’s consent. The treaty promised religious freedom, especially for the Muslim Moros, and free trade with the Philippines. It prohibited piracy and the introduction of war material. The most controversial article recognized slavery but allowed any slave to purchase his or her freedom by paying “the usual market value” to the master. Finally, the treaty promised monthly payments to the Sultan and his chiefs totaling 730 Mexican dollars per month (approx. $365.)

This treaty theoretically removed the Sultanate of Sulu from participation in the Philippine American War (1899-1902). Some Americans criticized the treaty for granting too much autonomy to the Sultan and for allowing slavery to continue. Over the next five years, political conditions deteriorated, and there were revolts in several areas, even threatening Jolo City, where U.S. authorities were stationed.

In March 1904, the United States abrogated the treaty unilaterally, per Secretary of War William Howard Taft’s telegram to Gov. General Luke E. Wright (1846-1922): “By order of the President, you are hereby directed to notify the sultan of Sulu and the dattos who signed the so-called Bates treaty of August 20, 1899, which was a modus vivendi and mere executive agreement that in view of the failure on the part of the sultan … to discharge the duties and fulfill the conditions imposed upon them by said agreement, they have forfeited all rights to the annuities therein stipulated to be paid to them and all other considerations… they are subject to the laws enacted therein under the sovereignty of the United States.”

Although the Philippine-American War officially ended in July 1902, with the dissolution of the First Philippine Republic, resistance continued for several more years, especially in remote areas and the islands occupied by the Moro people. In June 1913, American troops under General John “Black Jack” Pershing (1860-1948) attacked a group of fighters atop Mount Bagsak on the island of Jolo. At the Battle of Bud Bagsak, the Americans destroyed the Moro resistance and killed its leader Datu Amil.

In the text of the treaty, there was a critical “translation error.” The Treaty in the Tausug version discussed “The support, aid, and protection of the Jolo Island and Archipelago,” but the word “sovereignty” was not used. The English-language version noted that “The sovereignty of the United States over the whole Archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged.” In 1946, the English text provided justification for America’s decision to incorporate the Sulu Archipelago into the Philippine state.

Sultan Hadji Mohammed Jamalul Kiram II (1868-1936) was a member of the Muslim royal house that ruled the Sulu archipelago from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Proclaimed sultan when his older brother died in 1884, it took ten years to consolidate his authority. In 1912, he took a world tour and visited President William Howard Taft at the White House in Washington, D.C. He surrendered his political powers to the United States government in 1915, but retained cultural and religious authority. He died leaving seven daughters but no male heir. His younger brother made an ineffectual claim to the abolished sultanate.

John C. Bates (1842-1919) was born in Missouri, the son of Abraham Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates, and educated at Washington University in St. Louis. During the Civil War, John C. Bates served as an aide to General George G. Meade. He served in the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth century and rose to the rank of colonel. In 1898, he received promotion to brigadier general and commanded in the Spanish-American War. He also commanded a division of volunteers in the Philippines during the early stages of the Philippine-American War. He later served as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army for several months before his retirement in 1906. He was the last Army Chief of Staff to have served in the American Civil War.


Dust soiling, stains, margins strengthened.

Full text of Treaty

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