- Alternative meaning: the Commonwealth of Nations
The English noun Commonwealth dates originally from the fifteenth century and in different contexts indicates one of:
- a nation, state or political unit
- a state founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good
- a republic
- a federated union of constituent states.
A Cooperative Commonwealth is the ideal of a society based on cooperative and socialist principles.
The original phrase "common wealth" or "the common weal" is a calque translation of the Latin term res publica, from which the word republic comes. The Commonwealth of England was the official title of the political unit that replaced the kingdoms of Scotland and England under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. It formed the first republic in the English-speaking world, though this quickly devolved into a pseudo-monarchy.
Four states in the United States designate themselves "commonwealths": Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They do this to emphasize that they have "government based on the common consent of the people". While the term "commonwealth" has the same legal and economic meaning as "state," the four regions that chose to designate themselves commonwealths probably did so as a reference to the Commonwealth period in England, when that nation was not ruled by a king.  
The term also served when the 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, the British (or, since 1986, Australian) monarch, is represented at federal and state level by a Governor-General and Governor respectively. 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 Westminster parliamentary system, with a similar structure - House of Representatives, Senate - to the US Congress. In an Australian context, the term "commonwealth", may refer to the federal (ie: Commonwealth) government.
Various other states have also used the title "commonwealth" since that time.
The term "commonwealth" is also used for the political relationship between the United States and the unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico and of the Northern Marianas (see: commonwealth (U.S. insular area)).
When capitalised, "Commonwealth" refers to the Commonwealth of Nations - formerly the "British Commonwealth" - a loose confederation of nations formerly members of the British Empire (with some exceptions, ie: Papua New Guinea, Mozambique). The Commonweath's membership includes both republics and monarchies and the (appointed, not 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 Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and others.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Commonwealth of Poland
Commonwealth is the usual translation of the official name of Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita). Blessed Vincent Kadlubek (Wincenty Kadlubek, 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 federal country formed by Poland and Lithuania 1569-1795. It is also often referred as "Nobles' Commonwealth" (1505-1795). 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
confederatio (confederation), a military organisation of the citizens for the attainment of common political aims.
It is worth to note that "A commonwealth of good counsaile,&c." was the title of the 1607 English translation of the work of Wawrzyniec Grzymala Goslicki "De optimo senatore" that presented to English readers many of the ideas present in the political system of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
States that use the name Commonwealth
Last updated: 08-18-2005 23:09:49