AskDefine | Define commonwealth

Dictionary Definition



1 the official name of some states in the United States (Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Kentucky) and associated territories (Puerto Rico)
2 a politically organized body of people under a single government; "the state has elected a new president"; "African nations"; "students who had come to the nation's capitol"; "the country's largest manufacturer"; "an industrialized land" [syn: state, nation, country, land, res publica, body politic]
3 a world organization of autonomous states that are united in allegiance to a central power but are not subordinate to it or to one another
4 a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them [syn: democracy, republic] [ant: autocracy]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Commonwealth



ipacregion Canada


common + wealth


  1. A form of government, named for the concept that everything that is not owned by specific individuals or groups is owned collectively by everyone in the governmental unit, as opposed to a state, where the state itself owns such things.
  2. Approximately, a republic.
    May 19, 1649 ''Be it declared and enacted by this present Parliament and by the Authoritie of the same That the People of England and of all the Dominions and Territoryes thereunto belonging are and shall be and are hereby constituted, made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and free State And shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreame Authoritie of this Nation, the Representatives of the People in Parliam[ent] and by such as they shall appoint and constitute as Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People and that without any King or House of Lords.'' Act of the Long Parliament.

Derived terms

For example, the official name of Australia is Commonwealth of Australia. It is applied to four states of the United States, to wit, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Also used by self-governing, semi-autonomous units such as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.


Related terms

Extensive Definition

The English noun commonwealth dates from the fifteenth century. The original phrase "common-wealth" or "the common 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. The word was a calque on the Latin phrase res publica meaning "public affairs" or "the state", from which the English word republic arises.
Today the term is more general and means a political community.
The type of community indicated by the term commonwealth varies. For instance, in different contexts it might indicate:
When capitalized, "Commonwealth" normally refers to the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations — formerly the "British Commonwealth" — a loose confederation of nations formerly members of the British Empire (with one exception: Mozambique, which was a Portuguese possession). The Commonwealth'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, Jamaica and New Zealand. 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 11 of the 15 former Soviet Republics, with the exception of Turkmenistan, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Its creation signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 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 1973, 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 Caribbean republic of Dominica has used the official style Commonwealth of Dominica since 1970

Countries that formerly used the style Commonwealth

Great Britain

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 evolved 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 Norway 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 Poland and Lithuania 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 dick". 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 of the 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.

United States

U.S. states

Four states in the United States officially designate themselves "commonwealths":
  • Massachusetts 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."
  • Pennsylvania uses the term "Commonwealth" loosely. The "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" is its official title.
  • Virginia has been known as the "Commonwealth of Virginia" since before joining the United States.

U.S. insular areas

"Commonwealth" is also used in the U.S. to describe the political relationship between the United States and the overseas unincorporated territories:
commonwealth in Bosnian: Commonwealth (čvor)
commonwealth in Spanish: Estado libre asociado
commonwealth in Esperanto: komunumo
commonwealth in Italian: Commonwealth
commonwealth in Dutch: Gemenebest (algemeen)
commonwealth in Norwegian: Samvelde
commonwealth in Swedish: Statsförbund

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Everyman, John Doe, Public, absolute monarchy, ally, archduchy, archdukedom, aristocracy, ashram, autarchy, autocracy, autonomy, body, body politic, buffer state, captive nation, caste, chieftaincy, chieftainry, citizenry, city-state, clan, class, coalition government, colonialism, colony, common man, commonweal, commune, community, community at large, constituency, constitutional government, constitutional monarchy, country, county, cultural community, democracy, dictatorship, domain, dominion, dominion rule, duarchy, duchy, dukedom, duumvirate, dwellers, dyarchy, earldom, economic class, empery, empire, endogamous group, estate, everybody, everyman, everyone, everywoman, extended family, family, federal government, federation, feudal system, folk, folks, free city, garrison state, general public, gens, gentry, gerontocracy, grand duchy, habitancy, heteronomy, hierarchy, hierocracy, home rule, inhabitants, kingdom, kinship group, land, limited monarchy, linguistic community, mandant, mandate, mandated territory, mandatee, mandatory, martial law, men, meritocracy, militarism, military government, mob rule, mobocracy, moiety, monarchy, nation, nationality, neocolonialism, nuclear family, ochlocracy, oligarchy, order, pantisocracy, patriarchate, patriarchy, people, people at large, people in general, persons, phratria, phratry, phyle, police state, polis, polity, populace, population, possession, power, principality, principate, protectorate, province, public, puppet government, puppet regime, pure democracy, realm, regency, representative democracy, representative government, republic, satellite, self-determination, self-government, seneschalty, settlement, social class, social democracy, society, sovereign nation, speech community, state, stratocracy, subcaste, sultanate, superpower, technocracy, territory, thearchy, theocracy, toparchia, toparchy, totalitarian government, totalitarian regime, totem, triarchy, triumvirate, tyranny, welfare state, whole people, world, you and me
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