Kentucky is one of four American states which have adopted the name “commonwealth.” There’s no legal difference between Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky and the other 46, but there’s a world of political significance in the word.

According to Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary in 1755, a commonwealth was simply “a polity; an established form of civil life.” Reflected in quotes from prominent political figures like Richard Hooker and John Locke, a commonwealth was a group of people in common life together who sought common goals. Johnson also lists another definition which is reflective of the use of commonwealth as it is understood today; “a government in which the supreme power is lodged in the people, a republic.In this, Englishmen would have heard echoes of the first official Commonwealth after the temporary abolition of the English monarchy under Oliver Cromwell.

It’s thus appropriate that, after the American Revolution, certain states established themselves as commonwealths, societies in which the will of the people would prevail. Three were part of the original 13 states, and Kentucky imitated its mother commonwealth, Virginia, when it became independent in 1792.

Massachusetts began to use the term in its second draft of a state constitution, composed by John Adams in 1780. His word choice was intentional, as he wrote several years later: “There is, however, a peculiar sense in which the words republic, commonwealth, popular state, are used by English and French writers; who mean by them a democracy, or rather a representative democracy; a ‘government in one centre, and that centre the nation;’ that is to say, that centre a single assembly, chosen at stated periods by the people, and invested with the whole sovereignty, the whole legislative, executive, and judicial power, to be exercised in a body, or by committees, as they shall think proper”

The concept of commonwealth is invariably linked with popular sovereignty and representative democracy. But the name itself also points to another feature: a society ordered towards the common good. The purpose of government in a commonwealth is to encourage the flourishing of its citizens, as well as their families and institutions. This responsibility is neither amoral nor secular. As Adams also famously stated, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” Any true commonwealth cannot ignore God and his good character reflected in creation.

That’s precisely what CPC seeks to defend. The idea of a common good is expressed by our four founding principles: life, marriage, religious liberty, and fiscal responsibility. Let’s consider these in turn.

A commonwealth which values life recognizes the dignity and worth of all persons from conception to death, eschewing abortion and physician-assisted suicide. A commonwealth which values marriage recognizes the family as the central institution of our civil society, led by the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman for life. Gender, far from being a mutable imposition on our freedom, is a gift from our Creator. A commonwealth which values religious liberty recognizes that God, not government, is the Lord of the conscience. This first freedom is the fountainhead of all others like the freedoms of speech and of the press. Finally, a commonwealth which values fiscal responsibility recognizes that an economically free society must be a virtuous society, opposed to unjust practices like gambling.

Many Kentuckians on the political Left argue that these four principles oppose the will of the people. Yet it is these very policies which can bring great blessings to all in our commonwealth.They are consistent with the way in which God created the universe. Further, the Left often seeks to unite people around revolutionary policies which amount to nothing more than an anti-culture that destroys what comes before it. As Christians and conservatives, we must present a positive vision worthy of the name of commonwealth.