A longish excerpt from Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy's book, The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity...............
The modern Presidents Club was founded by two men who by all rights should have loathed each other.
There was Harry Truman, the humble haberdasher from Missouri, hurled into office in the spring of 1945, summoning to the White House Herbert Hoover, a failed Republican president who had left town thirteen years earlier as the most hated man in America, his motorcades pelted with rotten fruit. They were political enemies and temperamental opposites. Where Truman was authentic, amiable, if prone to eruptions of temper, Hoover could be cold, humorless, incapable of small talk but ferociously sure of the rightness of his cause. Yet they shared some personal history and, more important, some public goals. Though they saw the world differently - Hoover's faith lay in private initiative, Truman's in the promise of benevolent government - they were men of Middle America, of Iowa and Missouri, the first and second presidents born west of the Mississippi, with a shared suspicion of elite Easterners and a common commitment to Wilsonian idealism. Both men were more loyal to their parties than their parties were to them.
"I'm not big enough. I'm not big enough for this job," Truman said to a Senate friend the day after Franklin Roosevelt died. But he was, not least because he did not let his pride interfere with his needs - and during the crucial postwar years, Truman's needs and Hoover's gifts were perfectly matched. Across a devastated Europe, a hundred million people were at risk of starvation. Truman was determined to help them. Hoover was the man who knew how, and from that simple equation, an alliance was born. Together, Truman and Hoover probably saved more lives than any two players on the stage of the twentieth century.
Hoover served Truman so well that Truman next enlisted him to help sell a suspicious Republican Congress on the notion of an entirely new role for America in the world, promoting European recovery as a counterweight against Soviet influence. And if that was not enough, Hoover then proceeded to lead the top-to-bottom overhaul of the presidency itself, strengthening the office to meet the demands of the modern age. It was a gift the two unlikely partners bequeathed to all the rest who followed.
Truman gave Hoover what any failed president dreams of: a chance to rewind the tape and replay it, reveal the compassion obscured by the caricature, and erase the image of a hapless president by being the one who saved the presidency. It didn't matter that Truman thought Hoover was "to the right of Louis the Fourteenth." He was honest and honorable, and they never talked about politics anyway, since they had something more important in common. "We talked," Truman said, "about what it was like being president."
As for Hoover, as emotionally austere as any president ever, he would one day write to Truman that "Yours has been a friendship which has reached deeper into my life than you know." Truman was so moved by the letter, he framed it so it could remain on his desk until the day he died.