Ezra Taft Benson, January 20, 1961

-- January 20, 1961
Resigns as Secretary of Agriculture. "When Mr. Benson's term came to a close," his successor asserted in 1969, "the Department of Agriculture not only was disorganized—it was demoralized."

His biographers asserted:

The last four years of Eisenhower's term constituted a period of mixed concepts and muddled improvisations. Expectations for the Soil Bank did not fully materialize and by 1960 the [government] again possessed large amounts of food and fiber. Costs exceeded those of any other program (even those of the Truman years). . . . [A]gricultural policy soon degenerated into an incongruous combination of open production and continued price supports. . . . Although Benson was perceptive and courageous, he seemed overly motivated by doctrinaire principles at a time when hard-pressed farmers needed sympathetic help and encouragement. This sincere man, who truly loved the land and those who tilled it, never fully realized that his political rhetoric sounded too much like didactic sermons from Salt Lake City's Temple Square.

Possessing "fortress-like faith" and "superb expertise in his field," according to his biographers, Benson broke through the inertia of established tradition and entrenched attitudes to show the way toward agricultural reform. His very habits of not compromising and never giving up, made him valuable in the political arena where selling out is too often elevated into a fine art.

. . . Being the recipient of political assaults brings joy to no one but Benson took comfort in the knowledge that in the end he would be vindicated.

...[T]he annals of history may reward Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture far more than his contemporaries. This would be a fitting tribute to Ezra Taft Benson, the man who put the people's welfare above party politics. (1)

-- 22 May 1961
Benson made what LDS authorities called "end runs" around the Quorum of Twelve and First Presidency counselors in order to obtain McKay's encouragement for his political activism. However, such "end runs" were common practice for general authorities and church bureaucrats during the McKay presidency. (2)

-- May 24, 1961
Ernest Wilkenson "Presided at devotional, at which I introduced Elder Ezra Taft Benson. He gave a fine talk. It is apparent, however, it is very difficult for him to divorce himself from the active politics in which he has been engaged, and get into his work again as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. While I agreed with every word that he said, I suspect there were some Democrats who did not, and he took one-third of his time talking on current political problems." (3)

-- May 25, 1961
Several apostles "are gravely concerned about the pressures being put on missionaries to baptize to fill a quota of baptisms. . . .This of course[is] a criticism of President Moyle and many of the mission presidents working under his direction." Extensive abuses in "baseball baptism program" lead to counselor Moyle's censure in 1963, mass excommunications of European "kiddie baptisms" in 1964-65, and more than decade of avoiding baptism quotas for full-time missionaries. (4)

-- Jun 22, 1961
[Quorum of the Twelve] Hugh B. Brown set apart as Third Counselor to President David O. McKay. (5)

-- June 29, 1961
David O. McKay: "Brother Benson has received an invitation from the senators and congressmen to go back to Washington as an adviser. I feel that if this matter comes up again that Brother Benson should remain here; that we need him at home." (6)

-- 29 Jul 1961
Mark E. Petersen (widely known as the unsigned editorial writer for the Deseret News "Church News") ... criticized the Birch Society ... without actually naming it.

"From time to time organizations arise ostensibly to fight communism, the No. 1 opponent of the free world," Petersen had written in 1961, but concluded that "it is not good for citizens to align themselves with flag-waving groups which may bring them into difficulty." (7)

-- 9 Aug. 1961
[Ernest] Wilkinson observed that "President McKay for the moment is displeased with some things that Brother Benson has done." (8)

-- 17 Aug 1961
[A]s soon as the Birch Society became an LDS controversy in 1961 McKay felt torn between his strong anti- Communist convictions and his desire to avoid entanglement of the church with anti-Communist organizations. (9)

1 - Schapsmeier and Schapsmeier, "Eisenhower and Ezra Taft Benson", 378.; Schapsmeier and Schapsmeier, Ezra Taft Benson and the Politics of Agriculture , 274, 275, 276. For context and full citation, see 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 - Specific use of "end run" terminology for this feature of McKay's presidency appears in J. Reuben Clark office diary, 22 May 1961; Wilkinson diary, 25 May 1967; Neal A. Maxwell oral history, 1976-77, 24-25, LDS archives. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
3 - Ernest L. Wilkenson diary as referenced in Greg Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
4 - On This Day in Mormon History, http://onthisdayinmormonhistory.blogspot.com
5 - Wikipedia, Chronology of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (LDS Church), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_the_Quorum_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_(LDS_Church)
6 - David O. McKay diary as referenced in Greg Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
7 - "Let Us Not Be Carried Away," Deseret News "Church News," 29 July 1961, 16. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
8 - Wilkinson diary 9 Aug 1961. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
9 - McKay diary, 17 Aug., 24 Aug., 19 Sept. 1961, LDS archives; ... See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.

LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson

Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson