Like most Americans, the old man was too deeply involved with labor and capital to think in those terms. Instead he thought of the people he dealt with as personalities - and judged them by their work.
There was Henry Johnson, for example, whom he'd hired as a boy, and taught how to fix shoes, and who would stay with him for the next 50 years through his various ventures, mastering one skill after another. The old man's apprentice would grow old with him, and die two weeks before he himself did. The family smiled knowingly. They knew Henry had just gone ahead, as usual, to scout things out.
There wasn't much theoretical about the way the old shoemaker lived and prayed and worked. Yet he would have understood instinctively the theory that a politician named Lincoln once propounded before a convention of farmers:
"(L) abor is prior to, and independent of capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed; that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence . . . labor is the superior - greatly the superior - of capital."
On this Labor Day, a great deal will be said in the usual press releases, but none of it will be more eloquent than work done well. To me, two new soles on a pair of well-shined shoes still say more than all the Labor Day speeches ever written.