Ezra Taft Benson, April 1957

-- April 1957
Benson decided, in an effort to rein-in over-production, to allot some 55 million acres for wheat and to lower parity to 75 percent. ("Riding a wave of confidence" from Eisenhower's reelection, Benson hoped "it would carry us.") Thus, farmers who had been receiving $2.00 per bushel of wheat would now get $1.78. Benson concluded that "this move would force farmers to make economically sound decisions regarding how much they would plant or whether they would even put the plow to some of their land."

South Dakota's Democratic Representative George McGovern, among others, immediately protested that Benson was "totally out of sympathy with the economically depressed conditions of farm families" and, for the good of the country, should leave office immediately.

"It was almost standard fare for Democratic congressmen from farm states to sharpen their teeth on Mr. Benson," McGovern later recalled. "We ate a piece of him for breakfast every morning."

Benson had grown weary of such attacks and once again began to feel "the urge . . . to go back to my life's work in Utah." When he raised the subject with Eisenhower, the president remained firmly opposed to Benson's departure: "If I have to, I'll go to Salt Lake City and appeal to President [David O.] McKay to have you stay on with me," he vowed. Both disappointed and exasperated, Benson "threw up my hands," confessing, "This is a difficult assignment and I'd be genuinely happy to be out of it. But I have no disposition to run out on you if you feel I'm serving a useful purpose. But I want to say again that if at any time I seem to you to be following a course not in the best interests o[f] your Administration, you have only to pick up the telephone." (1)

-- About June, 1957
Proxmire and House colleague Henry Reuss soon joined McGovern's call for Benson's ouster. Almost immediately, some nervous Republicans began to look to Benson as a convenient scapegoat. Congressman Melvin R. Laird, also from Wisconsin, told Eisenhower: "It is most important that a change be made in the office of Secretary of Agriculture before the next session of Congress."

South Dakota Senator Karl Mundt, another Republican, wrote: "We can not even come close to electing a Republican House of Representatives or a Republican Senate in 1958 unless . . . Benson is replaced by somebody who is personally acceptable to the farmers of this country." With Benson remaining in office, Mundt insisted, Republicans did not have a "Chinaman's chance of winning the farm vote." (1)

-- September 1957
Shortly after Proxmire's win, President David O. McKay paid a surprise visit to Eisenhower in early September 1957. According to Benson, McKay was "planning some changes in which I might well have a part" and wondered if it "would be convenient for him [Eisenhower] to release me at this time." (McKay subsequently admitted that he wanted to provide Eisenhower with an "excuse to release Brother Benson if he desired to do so.")

As Benson remembered:

President McKay said, "Mr. Eisenhower indicated to me that you [i.e., Benson] and he have been very close. In fact, the President told me 'Ezra and I have been just like this'—and he interlocked the fingers of his hands. "Then he said, 'I just don't know where I could turn to get someone to succeed him.'

"Now Brother Benson," President McKay went on, "I left no doubt but that the government and President Eisenhower have first call on your services. We in the Church can make adjustments easier at this time than the government can. We want to support President Eisenhower. He is a noble character, a fine man. In this case our country comes first. But, of course, we also want you to do what you would prefer."

"I recognize that you have had more than four very strenuous years in Washington," Eisenhower told Benson, "and I can appreciate that your Church is anxious to have you back. I have given this a great deal of thought, and I will not go contrary to the wishes of your Church if they feel it imperative that you should leave. But I want to emphasize that word imperative."

Informed of McKay's position, Eisenhower continued:

"I feel, Ezra," he said, "that if you leave now it may mean giving up much of the agricultural program which we've put in operation and are trying to push to completion. I wish very much that you would stay at least one more year. Next fall [1958] we can review the situation again. (1)

-- 13 Sep 1957
BYU's president observed: "Apparently, however, Benson stands aloof from all his advisors, and they are afraid to tell him what they think. (2)

-- Wed Oct 2, 1957
[David O. McKay Office Journal] "Last evening, October 1, 1957, Elder Ezra Taft Benson called me by telephone at my home and asked whether or not he should accept a government appointment to go to Rome, Italy. The American Ambassador to Italy there would like to arrange a conference for him with the Pope. I told Brother Benson that I would talk with my counselors this morning and then let him know. Telephone conversation with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Wednesday, October 2, 1957."

" President McKay: Regarding the matter we were discussing yesterday, we are all united in the feeling that if you can in honor, without embarrassment, avoid that conference it would be well for you to do it. Brother Benson: All right. I think I can. President McKay: Was it the Ambassador? Brother Benson: The American Ambassador to Italy. President McKay: Yes, I see. Brother Benson: He is the one who has proposed it. But I think I can avoid it, President McKay, because I am going to be in Rome for a very short time. I have to make an important address for a World Agricultural Congress, and I think the shortness of my stay can probably be used as a reason for not doing so. President McKay: We have in mind particularly the effect upon our own people. Brother Benson: Yes. That is the thing the concerned me, too. President McKay: And the dignity that you would have to give to such a conference. Brother Benson: Yes, that is right. President McKay: And really they have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and we have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Brother Benson: I am in full harmony with that feeling. President McKay: Well that is good. We are glad of that. We all feel that it would be pretty embarrassing to you, and we are helping you out of what might prove to be a conference that will reflect upon our Church. Brother Benson: Well, I think it could be embarrassing both to me and to the Church." (3)

1 - Gary James Bergera, "Weak-Kneed Republicans and Socialist Democrats": Ezra Taft Benson as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1953-61, Part 2, Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, (Winter 2008, vol 41)
2 - Wilkinson diary, 13 Sept. 1957. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
3 - McKay, David O., Office Journal

LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson

Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson