Ezra Taft Benson

Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899 – May 30, 1994) was an American farmer, government official, and religious leader who served as the 15th United States Secretary of Agriculture during both presidential terms of Dwight D. Eisenhower and as the 13th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1985 until his death in 1994.

Ezra Taft Benson
13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
November 10, 1985  May 30, 1994
PredecessorSpencer W. Kimball
SuccessorHoward W. Hunter
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
December 30, 1973  November 10, 1985
PredecessorSpencer W. Kimball
SuccessorMarion G. Romney
End reasonBecame President of the Church
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 7, 1943  November 10, 1985
Called byHeber J. Grant
End reasonBecame President of the Church
LDS Church Apostle
October 7, 1943  May 30, 1994
Called byHeber J. Grant
ReasonDeaths of Sylvester Q. Cannon and Rudger Clawson[1]
at end of term
Jeffrey R. Holland ordained
15th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 21, 1953  January 20, 1961
PredecessorCharles F. Brannan
SuccessorOrville Freeman
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Political partyRepublican
Personal details
BornEzra Taft Benson
(1899-08-04)August 4, 1899
Whitney, Idaho, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 1994(1994-05-30) (aged 94)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
EducationUtah State University, Logan
Brigham Young University (BS)
Iowa State University (MS)
University of California, Berkeley
Spouse(s)Flora Amussen (1926–1992)
Children6, including Reed


Born on a farm in Whitney, Idaho, Benson was the oldest of eleven children. He was the great-grandson of Ezra T. Benson, who was appointed by Brigham Young a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1846. Benson began his academic career at Utah State Agricultural College (USAC, modern Utah State University), where he first met his future wife, Flora Smith Amussen. Benson alternated quarters at USAC and worked on the family farm.[2]

Benson served an LDS Church mission in Britain from 1921 to 1923. It was while serving as a missionary, particularly an experience in Sheffield, that caused Benson to realize how central the Book of Mormon was to the Restored Gospel message and converting people to the LDS Church.[2] On his mission, he served as president of the Newcastle Conference.

After his mission, Benson studied at Brigham Young University and finished his bachelor's degree there in 1926. That year he married Flora Smith Amussen, shortly after her return from a mission in Hawaii. They had six children together. Benson received a master of science degree in agricultural economics in 1927 from Iowa State University.[3][4] Several years later, he did preliminary work on a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, but never completed it.

Just after receiving his master's degree, Benson returned to Whitney to run the family farm. He later became the county agriculture extension agent for Oneida County, Idaho. He later was promoted to the supervisor of all county agents and moved to Boise in 1930.

While in Boise, Benson also worked in the central state extension office connected with the University of Idaho Extension Service. He also founded a farmers cooperative. Benson was superintendent of the Boise Stake Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association and later a counselor in the stake presidency. In 1939, he became president of the Boise Idaho Stake. Later that year, he moved to Washington, D.C., to become Executive Secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and became the first president of a new church stake in Washington.[5]

In August 1989, Benson received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George H. W. Bush.


In 1943, Benson went to Salt Lake City to ask church leaders for advice on whether to accept a new job. They unexpectedly told him that he would join them.[5] On October 7, 1943, both Benson and Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) became members of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling two vacancies created by the deaths of apostles that summer. Because Kimball was ordained first, he was given seniority over Benson in the Quorum. Upon Kimball's death in 1985, Benson became the president of the church in his place.

Benson's interest in politics could be seen in the subjects he chose for his biannual addresses at General Conference. Three-quarters of Benson's 20 speeches at General Conference during the 1960s were on a political theme.[6] In 1967, for example, he asked David O. McKay for permission to speak on "how the Communists are using the Negros to ... foment trouble in the United States". While McKay allowed Benson to speak on this subject, other church apostles were opposed to Benson's positions. (McKay did occasionally take action to limit Benson's use of the church to promote the John Birch Society, such as when he deleted a couple of paragraphs from Benson's 1965 conference address after a complaint from Hugh B. Brown.) When Joseph Fielding Smith became church president, Benson was no longer given permission to promote his political opinions.[7]

In 1963, the First Presidency sent Benson to Europe to preside over the missionary work there. Some, including the New York Times, interpreted this move as an "exile" after Benson's virtual endorsement of the John Birch Society in general conference. McKay publicly denied that the assignment was an exile or a rebuke, but other church leaders, including Joseph Fielding Smith, indicated that a purpose in sending Benson to Europe was to break his ties with the Birch Society.[8]

Benson's teachings as an apostle were the 2015 course of study in the LDS Church's Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek priesthood classes.

Political career

In 1948, Republican presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey approached Benson before the election that year about becoming the United States Secretary of Agriculture. Although Benson had supported his distant cousin Robert A. Taft over Dwight D. Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican nomination and did not know Eisenhower, after his election Eisenhower nevertheless appointed Benson as Secretary of Agriculture. Benson accepted with the permission and encouragement of church president David O. McKay; Benson therefore served simultaneously in the United States Cabinet and in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[5]

Benson opposed the system of government price supports and aid to farmers which he was entrusted by Eisenhower to administer, arguing that it amounted to unacceptable socialism. Nonetheless, he served in his cabinet position for all eight years of Eisenhower's presidency. He was selected as the administrator-designate of the Emergency Food Agency, part of a secret group that became known as the Eisenhower Ten. The group was created by Eisenhower in 1958 to serve in the event of a national emergency.

Benson was an outspoken opponent of communism and socialism, and a strong supporter, but not an official member, of the John Birch Society, which he praised as "the most effective non-church organization in our fight against creeping socialism and Godless Communism."[9] When Nikita Khrushchev came in September 1959 to the USA, Benson opposed his visit.[10] He published a 1966 pamphlet entitled "Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception".[11] In a similar vein, during a 1972 general conference of the LDS Church, Benson recommended that all members of the church read Gary Allen's New World Order tract "None Dare Call It a Conspiracy".[12][13] U.S. Representative Ralph R. Harding, during a speech in Congress, accused Benson of being "a spokesperson for the radical right" and using his apostleship to give the impression that the church "approve[d] of" the John Birch Society. President Eisenhower endorsed Harding's criticism of Benson.[14]

Like Taft, Benson supported a non-interventionist foreign policy.[15]

Church presidency

Benson succeeded Kimball as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973, and as church president in 1985. Benson retained Gordon B. Hinckley, who had been Kimball's second counselor, as his first counselor and chose Thomas S. Monson as his second counselor. During his early years as church president, Benson brought a renewed emphasis to the distribution and reading of the Book of Mormon, reaffirming this LDS scripture's importance as "the keystone of [the LDS] religion." After his challenge to the membership to "flood the earth with the Book of Mormon", the church sold a record six million copies of the Book of Mormon that year to its membership for distribution.[16] He is also remembered for a general conference sermon condemning pride.[17] In the April 1988 General Conference's priesthood session, he gave a powerful sermon to older men who were single, exhorting them to quit being worldly and picky, get a wife, and raise a family.[18]


Benson was a lifelong supporter of Scouting. He started in 1918 as assistant Scoutmaster. On May 23, 1949, he was elected a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. He received the three highest national awards in the Boy Scouts of America—the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo—as well as world Scouting's international award, the Bronze Wolf.[19]

Health problems and death

Benson suffered poor health in the last years of his life from the effects of blood clots in the brain, dementia, strokes, and heart attacks, and was rarely seen publicly in his final years. He was ultimately rendered unable to speak due to the strokes he suffered. One of his last appearances where he spoke was at his 90th birthday celebration in 1989. Benson made his final public appearance at the funeral of his wife Flora in 1992. He was hospitalized in 1992 and 1993 with pneumonia.

Benson died May 30, 1994, of congestive heart failure in his Salt Lake City apartment about 2 months before his 95th Birthday. Funeral services were held June 4, 1994, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and were conducted by Hinckley. He was buried near his birthplace in Whitney, Idaho, at the Whitney City Cemetery. Howard W. Hunter succeeded Benson as LDS Church president.

Published works

  • Reed A. Benson., ed. (1960). So Shall Ye Reap: Selected Addresses of Ezra Taft Benson. Deseret Book Company. ASIN B0007E7BME.
  • The Red Carpet. Bookcraft. 1962. ASIN B0007F4WJI.
  • Title of Liberty. compiled by Mark A. Benson. Deseret Book. 1964.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • An Enemy Hath Done This. Bookcraft. 1969. ISBN 0-88494-184-1.
  • Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception. Deseret Book. 1969. ASIN B0007FRU42.
  • God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties. Deseret Book. 1974. ASIN B0006CF3MC.
  • Cross Fire: The Eight Years With Eisenhower. Doubleday. 1976. ISBN 0-8371-8422-3.
  • This Nation Shall Endure. Deseret Book. 1977. ISBN 0-87747-658-6.
  • Come Unto Christ. Deseret Book. 1983. ISBN 0-87747-997-6.
  • The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner. Deseret Book. 1986. ISBN 0-87579-216-2.
  • The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Bookcraft. 1988. ISBN 0-88494-639-8.
  • A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-Day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book. 1988. ISBN 0-87579-153-0.
  • Ezra Taft Benson Remembers The Joys of Christmas. Deseret Book. 1988. ASIN B00072PW5E.
  • A Labor of Love: The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson. Deseret Book. 1989. ISBN 0-87579-275-8.
  • Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice. Deseret Book. 1990. ISBN 0-87579-351-7.
  • Missionaries to Match Our Message. Bookcraft. 1990. ISBN 0-88494-779-3.
  • Elect Women of God. Bookcraft. 1992. ISBN 0-88494-838-2.
  • Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2003.
  • Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2014.

Posthumous honors

See also

  • Steve Benson (grandson and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist)


  1. Benson and Spencer W. Kimball were ordained on the same date to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve resulting from the deaths of Sylvester Q. Cannon and Rudger Clawson.
  2. "President Ezra Taft Benson: A Sure Voice of Faith", Ensign, July 1994.
  3. "Ezra Taft Benson: Thirteenth President of the Church". Presidents of the Church Student Manual. Intellectual Reserve, Inc. 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
  4. "Alumni Achievement". Iowa State University Alumni. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  5. Pusey, Merlo J. (1956). Eisenhower, the President. Macmillan. pp. 67–69.
  6. Dew, Sheri. Ezra Taft Benson. pp. 366–367.
  7. Prince, Gregory; Wright, Robert (2005). David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press.
  8. Quinn, Michael D. "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts" (PDF). Retrieved September 15, 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. Sean Wilentz. "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots". The New Yorker. October 18, 2010.
  10. Dew, Sheri L. (1987). Eara Taft Benson A Biography. Deseret Book Company. p. 338. ISBN 0-87579-110-7.
  11. Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 2005, ISBN 0-87480-822-7). pp. 72–73, 92–93, 473.
  12. D. Michael Quinn. "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts" Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26(2):1–87 (Summer 1992) at p. 72 Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Alexander Zaitchik, "Fringe Mormon Group Makes Myths with Glenn Beck's Help". Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Spring 2011, Issue Number: 141.
  14. Quinn, Michael. "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts" (PDF). Retrieved September 15, 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. http://www.latterdayconservative.com/ezra-taft-benson/united-states-foreign-policy/
  16. Dehlin, John. "LDS Anthropologist Daymon Smith on Post-Manifesto Polygamy, Correlation, the Corporate LDS Church, and Mammon". Mormon Stories. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  17. "Beware of Pride". LDS Church. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  18. "To the Single Adult Brethren of the Church". LDS Church. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  19. Church Educational System (2005). "Chapter 13: Ezra Taft Benson, Thirteenth President of the Church". Presidents of the Church: Student Manual. LDS Church.
  20. "Franklin County – Idahoans on loan to the world". Idahoshalloffame.org. Archived from the original on January 19, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  21. "Ezra Taft Benson Building". Byui.edu. September 27, 1977. Retrieved January 28, 2017.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Spencer W. Kimball
President of the Church
November 10, 1985 – May 30, 1994
Succeeded by
Howard W. Hunter
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
December 30, 1973 – November 10, 1985
Succeeded by
Marion G. Romney
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 7, 1943 – November 10, 1985
Succeeded by
Mark E. Petersen
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles F. Brannan
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
Served under: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Succeeded by
Orville Freeman
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