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Commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good or in which all participants have equal standing. It has historically sometimes been synonymous with "republic".

More recently it has been used for fraternal associations of sovereign nations, especially the British Empire-derived Commonwealth of Nations.

Origin of term

The Englishmarker noun commonwealth dates from the fifteenth century. The original phrase "the common-wealth" or "the common weal" (echoed in the modern synonym "public weal") comes from the old meaning of "wealth," which is "well-being." The term literally meant "common well-being." Thus commonwealth originally meant a state or nation-state governed for the common good as opposed to an authoritarian state governed for the benefit of a given class of owners. Commonwealth can translate the Latin term res publica, a broad concept which is also sometimes translated as "public affairs" or "the state" in certain contexts. Res publica is the term from which the English word republic arises.

Historic usage

United Kingdom

The Commonwealth of England was the official name of the political unit (de facto military rule in the name of parliamentary supremacy) that replaced the kingdoms of Scotland and England (after the English Civil War) under the rule of Oliver Cromwell and his son and successor Richard from 1649 to 1660. It formed the first republic in the English-speaking world, though this quickly devolved into a de facto monarchy. The Cromwellian Commonwealth is sometimes referred to as the Old Commonwealth in a British context.

Former Labour MP Tony Benn introduced a Commonwealth of Britain Bill several times, which would abolish the monarchy and establish a British republic. It has never reached a second reading.


The Icelandic Commonwealth or the Icelandic Free State (Icelandic: Þjóðveldið) was the state existing in Iceland between the establishment of the Althing in 930 and the pledge of fealty to the Norwegian king in 1262. It was initially established by a public consisting largely of recent immigrants from Norwaymarker who had fled the unification of that country under King Harald Fairhair.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Commonwealth of Poland

Republic is still an alternative translation of the traditional name of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Wincenty Kadłubek (Vincent Kadlubo, 1160–1223) used for the first time the original Latin term res publica in the context of Poland in his "Chronicles of the Kings and Princes of Poland." The name was used officially for the confederal country formed by Polandmarker and Lithuaniamarker 1569–1795.

It is also often referred as "Nobles' Commonwealth" (1505–1795, i.e. before the union).In contemporary political doctrine of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, "our state is a Republic (Commonwealth) under presidency of the King." The commonwealth introduced a doctrine of religious tolerance (see Warsaw Confederation), had its own parliament Sejm (although elections were restricted to the gentry or szlachta) and elected kings, who were bound to certain contracts Pacta conventa from the beginning of the reign. The foundation stones of the Commonwealth (also called the Golden Freedoms) used to be
  • free election of the king
  • Pacta conventa, a binding pledge agreed to by the King on his election
  • rokosz, the right of rebellion against kings who did not rule in accordance with their pledge
  • liberum veto (a later development), the right for a single representative to veto the entire proceedings of the Sejm
  • confœderatio (confederation), a military organisation of the citizens for the attainment of common political aims.

"A commonwealth of good counsaile" was the title ofthe 1607 English translation of the work of Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki "De optimo senatore" that presented to English readers many of the ideas present in the political system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations — formerly the "British Commonwealth" — is a voluntary association of 54 independent sovereign states, most of which are former British colonies, or dependencies of these colonies with three exceptions, Mozambiquemarker (which was a Portuguese possession), Rwandamarker (which was a Belgianmarker mandate) and Cameroonmarker (which was partly a Germanmarker territory and partly Frenchmarker and British colony) plus the United Kingdom itself. The Commonwealth's membership includes both republics and monarchies. The hereditary head of the Commonwealth of Nations is Queen Elizabeth II. She also reigns as monarch directly in a number of states, known as Commonwealth realms, notably the United Kingdommarker, Australia, Barbadosmarker, Canadamarker, Jamaicamarker, and New Zealandmarker. The Commonwealth of Nations is sometimes referred to as the New Commonwealth in a British context.

Commonwealth of Independent States

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a loose alliance or confederation consisting of 10 of the 15 former Soviet Republics, the exceptions being Turkmenistanmarker, Lithuaniamarker, Latviamarker, Estoniamarker and Georgiamarker. Georgiamarker left the CIS in August 2008 after a clash with Russiamarker over South Osetiamarker. Its creation signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Unionmarker, its purpose being to "allow a civilized divorce" between the Soviet Republics. The CIS has developed as a forum by which the member-states can co-operate in economics, defense and foreign policy.



The term also served when six Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act created a federal system, in which power is divided between the federal, or national, government and the States — the evolved status of the colonies. The Constitution stipulated that Australia was a constitutional monarchy, where the Head of State is the British (or, since 1942, Australian) monarch, who is represented at the federal level by a Governor-General, and at the state level by six Governors, one for each state. The Parliament of Australia was derived from the British, Canadian and American systems to form a uniquely Australian system. It is largely based on the British Westminster System, adopting many of its practices and precedents, but with a similar structure — House of Representatives, and Senate — to the U.S. Congress. In an Australian context, the term "Commonwealth" (capitalised) thus refers to the federal government and "Commonwealth of Australia" is the official name of the country.


The small Caribbeanmarker republic of Dominicamarker has used the official style Commonwealth of Dominica since 1970.

The Bahamas

The Bahamasmarker, a Commonwealth realm, uses the official style Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

United States

U.S. states

Four states in the United Statesmarker officially designate themselves as "commonwealths":

  • Massachusettsmarker is a Commonwealth, declaring itself as such in its constitution, which states that "The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good."

  • Pennsylvaniamarker uses the "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" as its official title.

  • Virginiamarker has been known as the "Commonwealth of Virginia" since before joining the United States.[687]

U.S. insular areas

"Commonwealth" is also used in the U.S. to describe the political relationship between the United Statesmarker and the overseas unincorporated territories:

See also


  2. copyright 2009
  3. copyright 2009
  4. copyright 2009
  5. copyright 2009
  6. copyright 2009

External links

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