Ezra Taft Benson, November 28, 1952

-- November 28, 1952
McKay, aided by Second Counselor J. Reuben Clark, placed his hands on the apostle's head and set him apart—a ritual usually reserved for Church callings—as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. "You will have a responsibility, even greater than your associates in the cabinet," McKay prayed, because you go . . . as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are entitled to inspiration from on high, and if you so live and think and pray, you will have that divine guidance which others may not have. . . . We bless you, therefore, dear Brother Ezra, that when questions of right and wrong come before the men with whom you are deliberating, you may see clearly what is right, and knowing it, that you may have courage to stand by that which is right and proper. . . . We seal upon you the blessings of . . . sound judgment, clear vision, that you might see afar the needs of this country; vision that you might see, too, the enemies who would thwart the freedom of the individual as vouchsafed by the Constitution, . . . and may you be fearless in the condemnation of these subversive influences, and strong in your defense of the rights and privileges of the Constitution. (1)

-- After Jan, 1953
One of Benson's first priorities was taming a massive $730 million federal bureaucracy. Even before assuming office, he began to reorganize his department's twenty agencies, and 8,000 Washington-based employees, into four main divisions. (This also reduced the number of agency heads participating in weekly staff meetings.) Some agencies were combined; some transferred to other departments; and some eliminated. The goal was to reorient Agriculture away from what Benson viewed as interventionist-driven farm policies and toward the department's real mission: improved marketing and better commodity-related education and research. He was convinced "he had to alter the ideologicaltemper of his department and acquire some measure of direction over its vast operations." (2)

-- Jan 12, 1953
Having suggested that the new cabinet's pre-inaugural first meeting begin with prayer, Benson was overjoyed when Eisenhower invited him on January 12, 1953, to offer the invocation. For Benson, "beseeching the Lord for spiritual strength was as necessary . . . as eating or sleeping." (2)

-- Jan 18, 1953
Benson was "deeply disappointed" when Eisenhower chose not to begin the cabinet's meeting again with prayer. Had he done something wrong, Benson wondered. That evening, he "broke down and wept aloud" in his small apartment. (2)

-- Jan 21, 1953
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson administers the oath of office for the new secretary of agriculture, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

-- Jan 23, 1953
[Benson] sent Eisenhower a letter urging that all cabinet meetings thereafter "be opened with a word of prayer." Eisenhower did not act immediately, looking instead for a practice that would be acceptable to everyone. Then, on the second Friday morning cabinet meeting after Benson's letter, Eisenhower announced that, barring any objections, he would like to start with a moment of silence. "And that's the way it was . . . from that time on." (Benson made certain that his own departmental staff meetings always began with a vocal invocation — a "custom," he termed it.)

One of Benson's assistants later quipped: "At the first [Cabinet meeting] Ike had Ezra do the praying, but I am informed that after the first one he decided that he'd have silent prayer because Ezra took too darn much time to pray." (2)

1 - McKay, Diary, November 28, 1952. Unlike most entries in McKay's diary, which are typed, this one is in McKay's handwriting; Dew, Benson , 259. For context and full cite, see Gary James Bergera, '"Rising above Principle": Ezra Taft Benson as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1953-61, Part 1', Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Fall 2008, v 41)
2 - Gary James Bergera, '"Rising above Principle": Ezra Taft Benson as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1953-61, Part 1', Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Fall 2008, v 41)

LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson

Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson