As always, feel free to contact me and ask me to catch places you're most interested in.
What is the Commonwealth of Virginia?
You will often hear our state called the
Commonwealth of Virginia. This doesn't mean Virginia has a different form
of government than any other state.
“Commonwealth” is defined by
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as:
a political unit or government
(1) “founded on law and united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the
common good,” or
(2) “one in which supreme authority is vested in the people.”
Using these definitions, it could be said that all 50 states, as well as our
national government, are commonwealths. Besides Virginia, three other
states - Kentucky, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania - use the term commonwealth
as part of their official names. The first use of commonwealth in
Virginia was early in its history. One reason given by Governor George
Yeardley for authorizing the first General Assembly meeting at Jamestown
in 1619 was “for the better establishing of a commonwealth here.”
From 1649 to 1660, England and Virginia did not have a king. Instead,
the Puritans ruled under a Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. The government
was called the Commonwealth of England. This commonwealth ended
when King Charles II reclaimed the throne in 1660.
In Colonial times, Virginia was officially known as the Colony and Dominion of
Virginia. When the 13 colonies broke ties with the British Crown during the
Revolution, the old name was no longer suitable. The delegates to the
convention in Williamsburg, when the first Constitution of Virginia was adopted
on June 29, 1776, used commonwealth as the name for the new form of
government. It is very likely they had in mind the Puritans’ rebellion against
the Crown in England more than 100 years earlier.
Pennsylvania and Massachusetts also chose to be called commonwealths
after independence from Great Britain. The other 10 former colonies took the
name “state,” the term used in the Declaration of Independence.
Kentucky was once part of Virginia. When Kentuckians joined the Union as
the 15th state in 1792, it kept the name commonwealth.
There are several other uses of the word “commonwealth”
in the world today The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is not a state, but a territory. In this case,
commonwealth refers to the free association with the United States chosen
by the Puerto Rican people. The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of Great Britain
and about 50 countries that were once part of the British Empire. Some of
these nations, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands,
still recognize the British monarch as their official head of state.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia and other former Soviet republics formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance set up to handle certain matters of mutual interest among these newly
Founded May 13, 1607, at Jamestown;
first permanent English settlement in
Richmond (since 1780)