There are 4 of the states in the U.S. that consider themselves Commonwealths. The 4 states include Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (not Kansas City, Missouri). The designation Commonwealth has no constitutional impact but rather it emphasizes that these 4 states have a government that is based on a common consent of its residents.
This is in opposition to the Commonwealth that was legitimized by their previous Royal Colony status. This previous status came from the King of England. The word Commonwealth is an English term that signifies the common “welfare” or “wealth” of the public. Today, we find that most people do not perceive a distinction between Commonwealth or state.
A state, on the other hand, is a political association that has a specific dominion over a certain geographic area. This dominion will include a variety of institutions that have the authority to make rules and laws to govern the people of that geographic area. The status of a state may often depend on its being acknowledged by a group of other states.
The Commonwealth of Virginia goes back all the way to its independence from England. On June 29, 1776, Virginia established its first constitution and the new name the Commonwealth of Virginia. The origin of this Constitution and Commonwealth were mainly attributed to the British Parliaments continual effort to apply burdensome taxes following the Indian in French war.
Virginia’s House of Burgesses opposed this taxation without representation. Two of the colonists who spearheaded this opposition was Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry. They along with other Virginians started to coordinate opposition actions in 1773. They were joined by other colonies in this opposition against taxes. The following year they sent a team of delegates to the Continental Congress but the results were nonproductive.
The Royal Governor dissolved the House Burgesses in 1774 but the revolutionary leaders continued using a form of government by means of the Virginia Conventions. A convention on May 15, 1776, made a declaration of Virginia’s independence from England. They then adopted Virginia’s declaration of rights from George Mason and this also included a new constitution.
After the House of Burgesses was dissolved a new House of Delegates was formed. The newly formed House of Delegates worked together with the Governors Council to make the Virginian General Assembly. This combination of government was founded in 1619 and is considered to be the oldest legislature in all of the Western Hemisphere.