Commonwealth

Last updated

A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically it has sometimes been synonymous with "republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare general good or advantage", dates from the 15th century. Originally a phrase (the common-wealth or the common wealth – echoed in the modern synonym "public wealth") it comes from the old meaning of "wealth", which is "well-being", and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally meant "common well-being". In the 17th century, the definition of "commonwealth" expanded from its original sense of "public welfare" or "commonweal" to mean "a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state".

Contents

The term evolved to become a title to a number of political entities. Three countries – Australia, the Bahamas, and Dominica – have the official title "Commonwealth", as do four U.S. states and two U.S. territories. Since the early 20th century, the term has been used to name some fraternal associations of nations, most notably the Commonwealth of Nations, an organization primarily of former territories of the British Empire, which is often referred to as simply "the Commonwealth".

Historical use

Rome

Translations of Roman writers' works to English have on occasion translated " Res publica ", and variants thereof, to "the commonwealth", a term referring to the Roman state as a whole.

England

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 Kingdom of England (after the English Civil War) from 1649–53 and 1659–60, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell and his son and successor Richard. From 1653 to 1659, although still legally known as a Commonwealth, the republic, united with the former Kingdom of Scotland, operated under different institutions (at times as a de facto monarchy) and is known by historians as the Protectorate. In a British context, it is sometimes referred to as the "Old Commonwealth".[ citation needed ]

Iceland

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.

Philippines

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was the administrative body that governed the Philippines from 1935 to 1946, aside from a period of exile in the Second World War from 1942 to 1945 when Japan occupied the country. It replaced the Insular Government, a United States territorial government, and was established by the Tydings–McDuffie Act. The Commonwealth was designed as a transitional administration in preparation for the country's full achievement of independence, which was achieved in 1946. The Commonwealth of the Philippines was a founding member of the United Nations. [1]

Poland–Lithuania

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 the contemporary political doctrine of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, "our state is a Republic (or Commonwealth) under the presidency of the King". The Commonwealth introduced a doctrine of religious tolerance called Warsaw Confederation, had its own parliament Sejm (although elections were restricted to nobility and elected kings, who were bound to certain contracts Pacta conventa from the beginning of the reign).

"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.

Catalonia

Between 1914 and 1925, Catalonia was an autonomous region of Spain. Its government during that time was given the title mancomunidad (Catalan: mancomunitat), which is translated into English as "commonwealth". The Commonwealth of Catalonia had limited powers and was formed as a federation of the four Catalan provinces. A number of Catalan-language institutions were created during its existence.

Liberia

Between 1838 and 1847, Liberia was officially known as the "Commonwealth of Liberia". It changed its name to the "Republic of Liberia" when it declared independence (and adopted a new constitution) in 1847. [2]

Current use

Australia

"Commonwealth" was first proposed as a term for a federation of the six Australian crown colonies at the 1891 constitutional convention in Sydney. Its adoption was initially controversial, as it was associated by some with the republicanism of Oliver Cromwell (see above), but it was retained in all subsequent drafts of the constitution. [3] The term was finally incorporated into law in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, which established the federation. Australia operates under a federal system, in which power is divided between the federal (national) government and the state governments (the successors of the six colonies). So, in an Australian context, the term "Commonwealth" (capitalized), which is often abbreviated to Cth, refers to the federal government, and "Commonwealth of Australia" is the official name of the country.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas uses the official style Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Dominica

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

Certain U.S. states and territories

States

Four states of the United States officially designate themselves as "commonwealths". All four were part of Great Britain's possessions along the Atlantic coast of North America prior to the formation of the United States of America in 1776. As such, they share a strong influence of English common law in some of their laws and institutions. The four are:

  • Kentucky is designated a commonwealth by the Kentucky Constitution as the "Commonwealth of Kentucky". [4]
  • Massachusetts is a commonwealth, [5] declaring itself as such in its constitution, which states: "[T]he 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." [6]
  • Pennsylvania uses the "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" constitutionally and in its official title. [7]
  • Virginia has been known as the "Commonwealth of Virginia" since before the American Revolutionary War, and is referred to as a commonwealth in its constitution. [8]

Territories

Two organized but unincorporated U.S. territories are called commonwealths. The two are:

International bodies

Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations—formerly the British Commonwealth—is a voluntary association or confederation of 53 independent sovereign states, most of which were once part of the British Empire. The Commonwealth's membership includes both republics and monarchies. The Head of the Commonwealth is Queen Elizabeth II, who also reigns as monarch directly in the 16 member states known as Commonwealth realms.

Commonwealth of Independent States

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a loose alliance or confederation consisting of nine of the 15 former Soviet Republics, the exceptions being Turkmenistan (a CIS associate member), Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Georgia left the CIS in August 2008 after a clash with Russia over South Ossetia. Its creation signalled the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its purpose being to "allow a civilised divorce" between the Soviet Republics. The CIS has developed as a forum by which the member-states can co-operate in economics, defence, and foreign policy. [9]

Proposed use

United Kingdom

Labour MP Tony Benn sponsored a Commonwealth of Britain Bill several times between 1991 and 2001, intended to abolish the monarchy and establish a British republic. It never reached second reading.

See also

Related Research Articles

Foreign relations of Dominica

Like its Eastern Caribbean neighbours, the main priority of Dominica's foreign relations is economic development. The country maintains missions in Washington, New York, London, and Brussels and is represented jointly with other Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members in Canada. Dominica is also a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and the Commonwealth of Nations. It became a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1978 and of the World Bank and Organization of American States (OAS) in 1979.

Federalism political concept

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. Federalism can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a "public matter", not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are attained, through democracy, oligarchy, autocracy, or a mix thereof, rather than being unalterably occupied. As such it has become the opposing form of government to a monarchy and has therefore no monarch as head of state.

Commonwealth of Independent States regional organisation whose participating countries are former Soviet Republic

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a regional intergovernmental organization of originally ten post-Soviet republics in Eurasia formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has an area of 20,368,759 km² and has an estimated population of 239,796,010. The CIS encourages cooperation in economic, political and military affairs and has certain powers to coordinate trade, finance, lawmaking and security. It has also promoted cooperation on cross-border crime prevention.

Federation A union of partially self-governing states or territories united by a central government that exercises power over them

A federation is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism). In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of either party, the states or the federal political body. Alternatively, a federation is a form of government in which sovereign power is formally divided between a central authority and a number of constituent regions so that each region retains some degree of control over its internal affairs.

Colonel is a senior military officer rank below the general officer ranks. However, in some small military forces, such as those of Monaco or the Vatican, colonel is the highest rank. It is also used in some police forces and paramilitary organizations.

Unitary state State governed as a single unit with a supreme central government

A unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme. The central government may create administrative divisions. Such units exercise only the powers that the central government chooses to delegate. Although political power may be delegated through devolution to regional or local governments by statute, the central government may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers. A large majority of the world's states have a unitary system of government.

A confederation is a union of sovereign states, united for purposes of common action often in relation to other states. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defense, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the general government being required to provide support for all its members. Confederalism represents a main form of inter-governmentalism, this being defined as any form of interaction between states which takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Former European state

The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth – formally, the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and, after 1791, the Commonwealth of Poland – was a dual state, a bi-confederation of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch, who was both King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. It was one of the largest and most populous countries of 16th- to 17th-century Europe. At its largest territorial extent, in the early 17th century, the Commonwealth covered almost 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) and sustained a multi-ethnic population of 11 million. Polish and Latin were the two co-official languages.

Res publica is a Latin phrase, loosely meaning 'public affair'. It is the root of the word 'republic', and the word 'commonwealth' has traditionally been used as a synonym for it; however translations vary widely according to the context. 'Res' is a nominative singular Latin noun for a substantive or concrete thing – as opposed to 'spes', which means something unreal or ethereal – and 'publica' is an attributive adjective meaning 'of and/or pertaining to the state or the public'. Hence a literal translation is, 'the public thing/affair'.

A state government is the government of a country subdivision in a federal form of government, which shares political power with the federal or national government. A state government may have some level of political autonomy, or be subject to the direct control of the federal government. This relationship may be defined by a constitution.

Politeia (πολιτεία) is an ancient Greek word used in Greek political thought, especially that of Plato and Aristotle. Derived from the word polis ("city-state"), it has a range of meanings, from "the rights of citizens" to a "form of government".

A central government is the government that holds absolute supremacy over a unitary state. Its equivalent in a federation is the federal government, which may have distinct powers at various levels authorized or delegated to it by its federated states, though the adjective 'central' is sometimes also used to describe it.

Rzeczpospolita Name of the Polish State

Rzeczpospolita is a traditional and official name of the Polish State.

Commonwealth (U.S. state) Term used by four U.S. states in official names

Commonwealth is a term used by four of the 50 states of the United States in their full official state names. "Commonwealth" is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. The states, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, are in the Eastern United States and prior to the formation of the United States in 1776, were British colonial possessions. As such, they share a strong influence of English common law in some of their laws and institutions.

Extradition law in Australia permits the formal process by which a fugitive found outside a jurisdiction is surrendered to the jurisdiction where an alleged offence has taken place for trial or punishment. This may include a process done within the country or one between Australia and another country.

A democratic republic is a form of government operating on principles adopted from a republic and a democracy. Rather than being a cross between two entirely separate systems, democratic republics may function on principles shared by both republics and democracies.

The Dominions were the semi-independent polities under the British Crown that constituted the British Empire, beginning with Canadian Confederation in 1867. "Dominion status" was a constitutional term of art used to signify an independent Commonwealth realm; they included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State, and then from the late 1940s also India, Pakistan, and Ceylon. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 recognised the Dominions as "autonomous Communities within the British Empire", and the 1931 Statute of Westminster confirmed their full legislative independence.

References

  1. United Nations website listing founding members
  2. The Commonwealth of Liberia
  3. Helen Irving. Australian Federation Archived 2015-07-15 at the Wayback Machine – Civics and Citizenship Education. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  4. "Kentucky.gov". Kentucky.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  5. "Mass.Gov". Mass.Gov. 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  6. "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts". Malegislature.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  7. "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania | The Keystone State". Pa.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  8. "Home". Virginia.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  9. Constantine, Michalopoulos, and Tarr David. "The economics of customs unions in the Commonwealth of Independent States." Post-Soviet Geography and Economics 38, no. 3 (1997): 125-143.