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(1) A permanent union of sovereign states founded to achieve common goals, usually political or military. The confederation forms central bodies with powers delegated by member states. As a rule, these bodies do not have direct power over the member states. Their decisions, based on the principle of unanimity, may be implemented in a member state only with the consent of its agencies of power. A confederation’s finances usually consist of contributions made by member states. In a confederation there is no uniform tax or legal system.
There have been several well-known confederations, including the League of Rhenish Towns (1254–1350), the Hanseatic League (1367–1669), the Swiss Confederation (1291–1798 and 1815-48), the Netherlands (the United Provinces, 1579–1795), the United States of America (1781–87), and the German Confederation (1815–66). The Confederate States of America (1861–65) were formed during the Civil War in the USA, when the federal system temporarily disintegrated. As a rule, a confederation precedes the formation of a federation. Although it is, in fact, a federation, Switzerland is still formally referred to as a confederation.
(2) The term “confederation,” meaning union, is sometimes used in the names of various organizations, such as the General Confederation of Labor in France, the General Confederation of Labor in Italy, the Japanese Labor Confederation, the Confederation of British Industries, and the Confindustria (General Confederation of Industry) in Italy.
(in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), between the 16th and 18th centuries, a temporary political union of armed szlachta (nobility). When the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was without a king after the death of Sigismund II Augustus (1572) and in subsequent interregna, a confederation was formed at the Convocation Sejm, which declared itself to be the General, or Hooded, Confederation— that is, the supreme organ of authority. From the early 17th century the szlachta ever more frequently formed political unions (called general confederations) at the national level in order to defend their class interests. Local confederations were also formed at the województwo level. Sometimes a confederation was transformed into a rokosz, or uprising of szlachta against the king. The most famous confederations were those of Bar (1768) and Targowica (1792).