Body politic founded on law for the common “weal,” or good. The term was often used by 17th-century writers to signify an organized political community, its meaning thus being similar to the modern meaning of state or nation. Today it primarily refers to the Commonwealth. Four U.S. states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) call themselves commonwealths, a distinction in name only. Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth rather than a state since 1952; its residents, though U.S. citizens, have only a nonvoting representative in Congress and pay no federal taxes.
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Free association of sovereign states formed in 1991, comprising Russia and 11 other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Members are Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Its administrative center is in Minsk, Belarus. The Commonwealth's functions are to coordinate its members' policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement.
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State (pop., 2006: 1,959,088), western Australia. Covering 976,790 sq mi (2,529,880 sq km), it constitutes one-third of the continent's area but has only about one-tenth of Australia's population; its capital is Perth. The extensive interior region has three deserts: Great Sandy, Gibson, and Great Victoria. The coast along the Timor Sea and Indian Ocean has only a few good harbours; notable inlets are Joseph Bonaparte and Exmouth gulfs. Australian Aboriginal peoples have occupied Western Australia for about 40,000 years. The western coast was first visited in 1616 by the Dutch; it was later explored by Englishman William Dampier in 1688 and 1699. In 1829 Capt. James Stirling led the first group of settlers there to establish Australia's first nonconvict colony. The discovery of gold in 1886 prompted a movement for constitutional autonomy, which was granted in 1890. In 1900 it was the last state to ratify the newly constituted Commonwealth of Australia. Initially it suffered from slow growth, but since 1960 its economy, fueled by agriculture and mining (notably of fossil fuels), has been expanding.
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State (pop., 2006: 1,514,337), south-central Australia. It covers an area of 379,725 sq mi (983,482 sq km), and its capital is Adelaide. The Dutch visited the coast in 1627. British explorers arrived in the early 1800s, and it was colonized as a British province in 1836. Its vast interior, a large part of which is barren, includes Lake Eyre and the Flinders Ranges. A major world source of opals, it also produces most of the wine and brandy consumed in Australia. It has the country's largest shipyards. It became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Its southeastern part has become industrialized since World War II.
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Free association of sovereign states consisting of Britain and many of its former dependencies who have chosen to maintain ties of friendship and cooperation. It was established in 1931 by the Statute of Westminster as the British Commonwealth of Nations. Later its name was changed and it was redefined to include independent nations. Most of the dependent states that gained independence after 1947 chose Commonwealth membership. The British monarch serves as its symbolic head, and meetings of the more than 50 Commonwealth heads of government take place every two years. Seealso British empire.
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Political party prominent in western Canada in the 1930s and '40s. It was founded in Calgary, Alta., in 1932 by a federation of farm, labour, and socialist parties to transform the capitalist system into a “cooperative commonwealth” by democratic means. It called for the socialization of banks and public ownership of transportation, communication, and natural resources. It won the general election in Saskatchewan in 1944 and took over the provincial government. It won further Saskatchewan elections but declined elsewhere. In 1961 it merged with the New Democratic Party.
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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 relates to 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.
The sovereign Commonwealth Realm The Bahamas uses the official style Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
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
"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.