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Why Is Pennsylvania a Commonwealth and Not a State?

Countries that are now independent but were once ruled by England and were a part of the British Empire refer to themselves as Commonwealths. More than 50 countries once owing allegiance to the Queen of England are now Commonwealths. What does that have to do with Pennsylvania? 

Pennsylvania along with the then-colonies of Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky, in order to maintain their British roots identity yet clearly indicate independence from England, chose to be called Commonwealths. The Founding Fathers of the four Commonwealths in the United States were all deeply influenced by the English philosophers like Locke and Hobbes. Those philosophers used the word Commonwealth to refer to an organized political community. The intent in being called a Commonwealth was to make a statement to all that the authority of the people was superior to that of the Government and those Governments were responsible to the people and not to the Crown of England.

So, at the time of the formation of the Country, the four Commonwealths chose to retain their

distinct identity and name as Commonwealths and not States. In realty, however, there is no

difference in structural or self-government, no special statuses or provisions, that make

Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or Kentucky different from the other 46 States that form the

United States of America.

Interestingly, when Virginia, in 1861, decided to leave the Union and throw its lot in with the

Confederacy, the Northwest Counties seceded from Virginia and became West Virginia and joined the Union as a State. So even though these four Commonwealths have proudly retained that ancient name, they are equal in all ways to the 46 others who are proudly called States.

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Davis & Davis Attorneys at Law

Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law