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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.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on commonwealth, visit Britannica.com.