Free state (government)

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Free state is a term occasionally used in the official titles of some states.

In principle the title asserts and emphasises the freedom of the state in question, but what this actually means varies greatly in different contexts:

  • Sometimes it asserts sovereignty or independence (and with that, lack of foreign domination).
  • Sometimes it asserts autonomy within a larger nation-state.
  • Sometimes it is used as a synonym for republic but not all "free states" have been republics. While the historical German free states and the Orange Free State were republican in form, the Congo and Irish Free States were governed under forms of monarchy. The republican sense derives from libera res publica (literally, "free state")', a term used by Roman historians for the period of the Roman republic.


Republican England

English Parliament, in the act forming the Commonwealth of England of 1649 to 1660, declared that "England is confirmed to be a Commonwealth and Free State and shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State." The Commonwealth had a republican constitution.


Flag of the modern Free State of Bavaria

In Germany the term free state (in German, Freistaat) comes from the 19th century as a German word for republic. After the German Revolution of November 1918, when Imperial Germany became the Weimar Republic, most of the German states within the German Reich called themselves a Free State. Others used expressions like Republik or Volksstaat (people's state) - though unpopular, as that term was associated with the enemy France. After the Nazis came to power they abolished the concept of a federal republic and all the states, and re-organized Germany into Gaue with appointed leadership.

The states were re-established after World War II, however from 1952 only Bavaria (successor to the Kingdom of Bavaria) still called itself a Free State and that made Freistaat a synonym for Bavaria. After the reunification, the reestablished Saxony (successor to the Kingdom of Saxony) used the name again in 1992 and Thuringia began to use it for the first time in 1993.

Free Cities

Historically Germany had Imperial Free Cities, who were subject only to the Emperor. In 1871 Germany knew only three Free Cities, Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck; the latter lost its status in 1937. Since 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany has Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt, Free and Hanseatic City) and Bremen (Freie Hansestadt), and also Berlin as a city which is also a Land (state). Like the Free States these three cities have no special rights in the federation.


Flag of the now defunct Orange Free State

In South Africa the term free state was used in the title of the nineteenth century Orange Free State (Oranje Vrystaat in Afrikaans) and is today used in the title of its successor, Free State; both entities were established as republican in form.

In contrast, the Congo Free State came into being between 1877 and 1884 as a private kingdom or dictatorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. In this case, the term free emphasised the new state's freedom from major colonial powers and the Belgian parliament, as the colony was ruled only by the king.

Irish Free State

The modern Republic of Ireland was known from 1922-1937 as the Irish Free State.

The Irish Free State of 1922-1937 was a form of constitutional monarchy under the British monarch. The Irish state was a special case because the term free state was deliberately chosen as a literal translation of the Irish word saorstát. At the time in which Irish nationalists were negotiating the secession of most of Ireland from the United Kingdom the word saorstát was a commonly used Irish word for republic. The British did not wish to permit the creation of an Irish republic (which would mean severing all links with the British crown) and so insisted that the literal translation of saorstát be used in the new state's English title instead.

Puerto Rico

Flag of the Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico ("Associated Free State of Puerto Rico")

The official Spanish name of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, literally, "Associated Free State of Puerto Rico", expressing a "politically organized community” or “State,” which is simultaneously connected by a compact to a larger political system and hence does not have an independent and separate status. However, according to the United States Supreme Court, Puerto Rico is not free or associated; it is only a state in the general sense, not as a state of the Union in the U.S. constitutional sense. According to consistent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, Puerto Rico belongs to but is not an integral part of the United States. Moreover, the said jurisprudence has determined that regardless of what nominal or cosmetic veneer has moted Puerto Rico's political status, it is essentially a U.S. colonial territory, since it is under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress. At its most basic, this Supreme Court doctrine expresses that Puerto Rico is more like property, far from a free-governing community or nation, and thus "domestic in a foreign sense" (not for the taking or meddling by free foreign nations), but "foreign in a domestic sense" (not a partner or an equal). In the Insular Cases, the Court ruled that the United States Constitution does not automatically apply in Puerto Rico.


Flag of Azad Kashmir, literally Free Kashmir

The Pakistan-administered part of the internationally disputed territory of Kashmir is officially called Azad Kashmir (meaning free Kashmir). The term free is used by the Government of Pakistan to express their view of the people in the Pakistan area living in freedom, whereas those in the India-controlled area (Jammu and Kashmir) are being "oppressed". The Pakistani area does indeed have a certain form of autonomy, having a separate parliament, prime minister and president.

List of 'free states'


  • Free State of Kashmir (Pakistan)



See also