commonwealth vs. state

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commonwealth vs. state

Post by jgodfroy » Thu Jan 06, 2005 3:33 pm

I realize this may be a question for a Poly Sci professor. But, what, if any, is the difference between a commonwealth and a state? I ask this specifically because the United States actually comprises 48 states and 2 commonwealths.

jason
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commonwealth vs. state

Post by Phil White » Thu Jan 06, 2005 4:45 pm

Jason,
The first non-archaic meaning of "commonwealth" given by the online Merriam-Webster (http://www.m-w.com) is
a nation, state, or other political unit: as a : one founded on law and united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the common good b : one in which supreme authority is vested in the people
The remaining meanings given in this source appear to be specific meanings where the word is used as part of the name of a state/nation/group of geo-political entities. Hence, the fourth entry is
a state of the U.S. -- used officially of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia
Thus, Kentucky is a state who choose to call themselves (presumably for historical reasons) a commonwealth.

There's an article that appears to be pretty reliable at http://www.kdla.ky.gov/resources/KYCommonwealth.htm.
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commonwealth vs. state

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Jan 07, 2005 12:32 am

.. Australia is made up of 6 States and 2 Federal Territories that have collectively formed the Commonwealth of Australia since 1901 .. so this brings us to the point of whether "commonwealth" is spelt with a /C/ or a /c/ .. defined as Commonwealth it is,
- [1] An association of states, dependencies, and territories formerly ruled by Britain that recognize the reigning British sovereign as titular head. (Collins Australian English Dictionary)

.. defined as commonwealth it is
- [1] the people of a state viewed politically
- [2] a state in which the people are taken as sovereign; democracy (Collins Australian English Dictionary)

.. if we move onto "state" in the Collins Australian English Dictionary we find,
- [5] (sometimes S-) a body of people pollitically organised under one government within a definite territory.
- [6] (sometimes S-) any of the political units together constituting a federal government.

.. it is interesting to note that the word "state" is included as a part of the definition of "commonwealth" suggesting that "commonwealth" is a special case of "state" .. a more closely defined political unit ..

.. and BTW Phil in the dictionary I consulted, viz Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language, they included Maryland as one of the commonwealths in the USA .. has that changed in recent years ??
WoZ of Aus 07/01/05
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commonwealth vs. state

Post by Phil White » Fri Jan 07, 2005 12:50 am

I'm afraid I'll have to bat that one over the other side of the pond.
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commonwealth vs. state

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jan 07, 2005 2:54 am

The following is from The Encyclopedia Britannica:
COMMONWEALTH: A body politic founded on law for the common “weal,” or good. The term was often used by 17th-century writers, for example, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, to signify the concept of the organized political community. For them it meant much the same as either civitas or res publica did for the Romans, or as “the state” means in the 20th century. Cicero defined the res publica as an association held together by law.Specifically, commonwealth served as the label of the Cromwellian regime in Great Britain (1649–60). Modern usage has further extended the term. Thus, the Australian colonies were federated as states in 1900 under the official title of the Commonwealth of Australia. Then, as various British colonies evolved from a status subordinate to the United Kingdom into an association of equal partners, the new relationship was named a Commonwealth. After India became a republic and chose to remain inside the Commonwealth, the phrase “head of the Commonwealth” was substituted for “Emperor of India” in the royal title, and Queen Elizabeth II was so crowned in 1953.In the United States, commonwealth has continued to be the official description of four states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia). It confers no distinction, other than in name, from the other states.The same term also was applied to Puerto Rico after an act of Congress of 1950 and adoption of the constitution of 1952.
So it appears that only the states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are ‘officially’ called Commonwealths in their description. And Puerto Rico, a U.S. dependency, is also referred to in that way. However, it is clear that some folks in Maryland like to also call their state a Commonwealth, although it is not officially so. A web search revealed:
<1897 “The State, Gov- ernor Lowndes has been attentive to the very closest details of his office, making a capable and dignified chief magistrate of the COMMONWEALTH OF MARYLAND.”—‘Archives of Maryland Online’ – ‘Maryland Manual of 1897’>.

And various official documents up until the present indicate that the expression is still being used:
<1998 “The unemployment rate for the COMMONWEALTH OF MARYLAND for February and March 1998 is 4.8% and 4.6% respectivley.”—‘Comptroller of theCurrency of Administrator of National Banks,’ 11 May>

<1998 “10,038 square miles, approximately, the combined size of the COMMONWEALTH OF MARYLALND and the Cheaspeake Bay.”–‘Natural Gas – 'Issues and Trends,’ Energy Information Administration, DOE>
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