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Ezra Taft Benson

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Ezra Taft Benson
Ezra Taft Benson.jpg
13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
November 10, 1985 (1985-11-10) – May 30, 1994 (1994-05-30)
Predecessor Spencer W. Kimball
Successor Howard W. Hunter
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
December 30, 1973 (1973-12-30) – November 10, 1985 (1985-11-10)
End reason Became President of the Church
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
October 7, 1943 (1943-10-07) – November 10, 1985 (1985-11-10)
Called by Heber J. Grant
End reason Became President of the Church
LDS Church Apostle
October 7, 1943 (1943-10-07) – May 30, 1994 (1994-05-30)
Called by Heber J. Grant
Reason Deaths 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
Predecessor Charles F. Brannan
Successor Orville L. Freeman
Political party Republican Party
Personal details
Born (1899-08-04)August 4, 1899
Whitney, Idaho, United States
Died May 30, 1994(1994-05-30) (aged 94)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting place Whitney Cemetery
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Spouse(s) Flora Smith Amussen Benson (1926–1992, her death)
Children Mark Benson
Reed Benson
Barbara Benson
Beverly Benson
Bonnie Benson
Flora Beth Benson
Parents George T. Benson
Sarah D. Benson
Signature of Ezra Taft Benson

Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899 – May 30, 1994) was an American farmer, government official, and religious leader who served as United States Secretary of Agriculture during both presidential terms of Dwight D. Eisenhower and as thirteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1985 until his death in 1994. He was the last president of the LDS Church born in the 19th century.[citation needed]


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 work 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 became the parents of six children. Benson received his master's degree from Iowa State University. 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.[3]

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.[3] 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 older than Benson and was therefore 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. 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.[4]

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

Benson while Secretary of Agriculture

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.[3]

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 supporter, but not a 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."[5] He published a 1966 pamphlet entitled "Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception".[6] 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".[7][8]

Church presidency

Benson succeeded Kimball as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973, and as church president in 1985. 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.[9] He is also remembered for a general conference sermon condemning pride.[10]


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.[11]

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 hospitalized in 1992 and 1993 with pneumonia.

Benson died May 30, 1994, of congestive heart failure in his Salt Lake City apartment at the age of 94. Funeral services were held June 4, 1994, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and conducted by Gordon B. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Red Carpet. Bookcraft. 1962. ASIN B0007F4WJI.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Title of Liberty. compiled by Mark A. Benson. Deseret Book. 1964.CS1 maint: others (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • An Enemy Hath Done This. Bookcraft. 1969. ISBN 0-88494-184-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception. Deseret Book. 1969. ASIN B0007FRU42.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties. Deseret Book. 1974. ASIN B0006CF3MC.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cross Fire: The Eight Years With Eisenhower. Doubleday. 1976. ISBN 0-8371-8422-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • This Nation Shall Endure. Deseret Book. 1977. ISBN 0-87747-658-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Come Unto Christ. Deseret Book. 1983. ISBN 0-87747-997-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner. Deseret Book. 1986. ISBN 0-87579-216-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Bookcraft. 1988. ISBN 0-88494-639-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-Day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book. 1988. ISBN 0-87579-153-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • A Labor of Love: The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson. Deseret Book. 1989. ISBN 0-87579-275-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice. Deseret Book. 1990. ISBN 0-87579-351-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Missionaries to Match Our Message. Bookcraft. 1990. ISBN 0-88494-779-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Elect Women of God. Bookcraft. 1992. ISBN 0-88494-838-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2003.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Benson also wrote the foreword to The Black Hammer, a book by Wes Andrews and Clyde Dalton. In the foreword, Benson alleges that the civil-rights movement is a communist plot for revolution in America.

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. 2.0 2.1 "President Ezra Taft Benson: A Sure Voice of Faith", Ensign, July 1994.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Pusey, Merlo J. (1956). Eisenhower, the President. Macmillan. pp. 67–69.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Prince, Gregory; Wright, Robert (2005). David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Sean Wilentz, "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party’s Cold War Roots", The New Yorker, October 18, 2010.
  6. 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.
  7. D. Michael Quinn, "Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26(2):1–87 (Summer 1992) at p. 72.
  8. Alexander Zaitchik, "Fringe Mormon Group Makes Myths with Glenn Beck’s Help", Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Spring 2011, Issue Number: 141.
  9. Dehlin, John. "LDS Anthropologist Daymon Smith on Post-Manifesto Polygamy, Correlation, the Corporate LDS Church, and Mammon". Mormon Stories. Retrieved April 1, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Beware of Pride". LDS Church. Retrieved May 5, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Church Educational System (2005). "Chapter 13: Ezra Taft Benson, Thirteenth President of the Church". Presidents of the Church: Student Manual. LDS Church. Retrieved January 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. [1]
  13. [2]


External links

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