I can surmise who John’s “our Struggle” did not include, based on how he described their struggle to Abigail. He had heard that “children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and Colleges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters,” John complained to Abigail. And now women “were grown discontented.” Their struggle was his problem. Their struggle was not his struggle. And his struggle was the struggle of the so-called American Patriots.
As we know all too well today, wealthy white American men did not stop rebelling when they won the American Revolution, when they gained the power to protect their declared independence. They continued to rebel to keep their power. They, “the Patriots.” The rest of us have continued our rebellions because we have yet to gain the power to be free. The resisting rest of us, “the unpatriotic.”
On this Fourth of July, the rest of us—and our wealthy white male allies—should be celebrating our ongoing struggles for freedom and not celebrating as if we are free. We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence, and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms. We should be celebrating our form of patriotism that they call unpatriotic, our historic struggle to extend power and freedom to every single American. This is our American project.
Because power comes before freedom, not the other way around. Power creates freedom, not the other way around. We can’t be free unless we have power. Freedom is not the power to make choices. Freedom is the power to create choices. And to have the power to shape policy is the power to create choices. That is why power is in the hands of the policy maker.
English power created the choices and policies that the white Founding Fathers were forced to abide by, which they rebelled against, just as American power created the choices and policies that the rest of us were forced to abide by, which we’ve since rebelled against. Only power gave those rich white American men freedom from the rich white British men.
Power freed them to trade with merchants and planters outside the British Empire. They could buy and sell slave-grown and manufactured products from anyone. They were no longer absolutely subjected to British capital and merchants and taxes and laws. The 13 colonies were no more, even though Abigail Adams’s Ladies, my enslaved ancestors, working-class whites, and Native Americans were, in many ways, still colonized after the founding of the United States. Only power will one day give the rest of us freedom within this nation founded by white men, for white men, as those white men have said repeatedly.
Our American project is not built on the idea that we became free in 1776 or any year thereafter, but that we are fighting for freedom, oftentimes from the economic and political interests that became free on 1776. Take the African American fight for freedom that did not end when chattel slavery or Jim Crow formally ended or civil and voting rights formally began. A group of African Americans, who were no longer enslaved around Savannah, Georgia, told Lincoln-administration officials on January 12, 1865, that freedom is “placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves.” They demanded land to be free.