Why is Pennsylvania a Commonwealth and not a state?

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    It is a state that just happened to call itself a Commonwealth. Like Virginia, Kentucky, Massachusetts. When these states chose it, the name "Commonwealth" signified it was a government of the people. – Semaphore Nov 11 '14 at 4:11

The founders of the Pennsylvania colony (and Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky for that matter) were inspired by the writings of English philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes; and so emphasised that their colony's authority derived from the people by formally calling themselves a Commonwealth.

This wasn't necessarily different from other states that chose call themselves Republics (like Vermont Republic) or Provinces (like Province of New Hampshire) or Colonies (like Delaware Colony) prior to the creation of the United States.

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    The term 'Commonwealth' is quite popular in the Anglosphere; and less dubious than 'People's Republic' has become, even if they both started as generic ways to say much the same thing. – LateralFractal Nov 11 '14 at 4:21

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