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The English noun Commonwealth dates originally from the fifteenth century. The original phrase "common wealth" or "the common weal" comes from the old meaning of "wealth" which is "well-being"[1]. The term literally meant "common well-being". Thus commonwealth originally meant a state governed for the common good as opposed to an authoritarian state governed for the benefit of a given class of owners.

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:


[edit] International or Multinational

[edit] Commonwealth of Nations

When capitalised, "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 colony). 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, New Zealand and others. The Commonwealth of Nations is sometimes referred as the New Commonwealth in a British context.

[edit] Commonwealth of Independent States

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a loose alliance or confederation consisting of 12 of the 15 former Soviet Republics. 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, and even integrate, in areas of economics, defense and foreign policy.

[edit] National

[edit] Australia

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 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 US 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.

[edit] Bahamas

The Bahamas, a Commonwealth Realm, adopted the official title The Commonwealth of the Bahamas upon independence in 1973.

[edit] Dominica

The small Caribbean republic of Dominica has used the official style Commonwealth of Dominica since 1978.

[edit] Countries that formerly used the style Commonwealth

[edit] 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 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.

[edit] Iceland

Icelandic Commonwealth (Þjóðveldið Íslands) 930-1262.

[edit] Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Commonwealth of Poland

Commonwealth is still an alternative translation of the official name of the Republic of Poland and Lithuania (Rzeczpospolita). 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". 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 noting that "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.

[edit] Philippines

This was the Commonwealth of the Philippines in free association with the USA between 1935 and 1946.

[edit] Subnational

[edit] United States

See Commonwealth (United States) and Commonwealth (U.S. insular area).

Four states in the United States officially designate themselves "commonwealths": Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

"Commonwealth" is also used in the U.S. to describe the political relationship between the United States and the overseas unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico and of the Northern Mariana Islands.

[edit] Fictional

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

it:Commonwealth nl:Gemenebest (algemeen) no:Samvelde sv:Statsförbund


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