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Why is Virginia called a "Commonwealth"? What is the difference between a Commonwealth and a State?

Mr. Smith

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If there is no difference, then why make the distinction?

Why is Virginia called a "Commonwealth"? What is the difference between a Commonwealth and a State?


Mr. Smith


Four of the constituent states of the United States officially designate themselves Commonwealths: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. This designation, which has no constitutional impact, emphasizes that they have a "government based on the common consent of the people" as opposed to one legitimized through their earlier Royal Colony status that was derived from the King of Great Britain. The word commonwealth is of English derivation and refers to the common "wealth" or welfare of the public. In common parlance, people do not make the distinction between state or commonwealth.


A state is a political association with effective dominion over a geographic area. It usually includes the set of institutions that claim the authority to make the rules that govern the people of the society in that territory, though its status as a state often depends in part on being recognized by a number of other states as having internal and external sovereignty over it.

The concept of the state can be distinguished from two related concepts with which it is sometimes confused: the concept of a form of government or regime, such as democracy or dictatorship, and the concept of a political system. The form of government identifies only one aspect of the state, namely, the way in which the highest political offices are filled and their relationship to each other and to society. It does not include other aspects of the state that may be very important in its everyday functioning, such as the quality of its bureaucracy. For example, two democratic states may be quite different if one has a capable, well-trained bureaucracy while the other does not. Thus generally speaking the term "state" refers to the instruments of political power, while the term regime or form of government refers more to the way in which such instruments can be accessed and employed.

Commonwealth of Virginia

The name "Commonwealth of Virginia" dates back to its independence from Great Britain. Virginia's first constitution (adopted on June 29, 1776) directed that "Commissions and Grants shall run, In the Name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and bear taste by the Governor with the Seal of the Commonwealth annexed." The Secretary of the Commonwealth still issues commissions in this manner. Among other references, the constitution furthermore dictated that criminal indictments were to conclude "against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.";_ylt=AwrVk6J6riVe6BIAGRonnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByZDNzZTI1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?qid=20070511085829AAZ3P80