-- Apr 22, 2015
This ends the chronology of the life of Ezra Taft Benson.
Growing up in a 100% LDS farming community in South Eastern Idaho, Ezra Taft Benson learned to work hard, and was immersed in the religious ideals of his family, church and community. He proved to be a successful missionary in England under the leadership of two apostles (Orson Whitney followed by David O McKay). He took on leadership roles including one equivalent to that of a Stake President & zone leader. After his mission he continued his relationship with Flora Smith Amussen, and after she served a mission, they married and had six children. Her goal of having twelve children was cut short when she experienced serious health issues while her husband was away on a second mission in Europe.
Benson faithfully served in church callings and he was eventually called into the Quorum of the Twelve. In his lengthy journal entry for that day, he describes the "shock" he had the day he was called when visiting the Heber J. Grant home. To him, that day had the "greatest significance," as he describes staring into his eyes while holding Heber J. Grant's hands. He said it "seem[ed] like a dream."
When two other apostles expressed reservations about going on a mission to post-WWII Europe to aid members of the church -- Benson (who had the largest and youngest family of the quorum) was called to leave his family and go to Europe. There, he and his assistant/translator spent a frenzied nine months travelling from country to country, coordinating relief shipments and providing encouragement to saints who had been devastated by the war. This left him profoundly changed, as he heard horrific stories and saw the effects of war, mistreatment and starvation. Here, he became an avid enemy of socialism, fascism and communism - after seeing the results Hitler and Stalin's attempts to impose socialism and communism.
After his mission, Benson became an anti-communism crusader and eventually an advocate of the right-wing John Birch society. He adopted and taught their philosophies, seeing communism as an encroachment on freeagency and the gospel. He saw it infiltrating the U.S. in many forms, including the civil rights movement, professors at BYU, and even U.S. President Eisenhower. Benson's rhetoric about freedom in church settings disturbed other moderate church leaders and Latter-day Saints. First Counselor Hugh B. Brown in particular took measures try to control Benson and counter his harsh rhetoric. Eventually Benson was called on another mission to Europe to try to stop his conspiratorial rhetoric. However Benson continued his Birch-related activities after his mission.
Early in life, Benson was a county agricultural agent and then became involved in various farming enterprises which gave him the experience that lead to his invitation to be the secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. After consulting with David O McKay, Benson accepted the role where he worked towards a free market economy for agricultural goods without government price controlling measures. Benson's pure ideology and non-compromising approach made him unpopular among farmers, who sometimes threw eggs at him. He had limited success in his efforts and eventually the gains he had made were overturned by a democratically controlled congress. Eisenhower appointed Benson as the leader of the secret "Eisenhower Ten" - a group that would run the country in the event of a national catastrophe, but Eisenhower eventually distanced himself from Benson for political reasons. Benson was considered by some to be the most controversial member of Eisenhower's cabinet.
After the Eisenhower presidency, Benson returned to his standard duties as a member of the Quorum of Twelve. When Spencer W. Kimball ascended to the presidency, Benson became the president of his Quorum and eventually the president of the church. He emphasized the traditional role of women, the Book of Mormon and more. As he entered his 90s, he became frail and suffered from age-related mental issues, disappearing from the public sphere during the last years of his presidency.
Thanks for tuning in. (1)
1 - editorial note
LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson
Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson