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Ezra Taft Benson

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Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899May 30, 1994) was United States Secretary of Agriculture for both of the administrations of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he later served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985 until his death.

Born on a farm in Whitney, Idaho, he was the oldest of 11 children. A 1926 graduate of Brigham Young University (after serving a church mission in Britain from 1921 to 1923), he pursued careers in agriculture and served in church leadership positions.

In 1939, when he was president of the church's Boise, Idaho stake and working for the University of Idaho Extension Service, he moved to Washington, D.C. to become Executive Secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and became founding president of the new LDS Church stake there.

On October 7 1943, both he and Spencer W. Kimball (18951985) were ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling two vacancies created by the death of Apostles that summer. As succession to the presidency of the Church is strictly by seniority among the Twelve, the few minutes separating Kimball's and Benson's ordinations by President Heber J. Grant resulted in Benson becoming Church President a dozen years later than he would have had he been ordained first.

In 1953 Benson was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by President Eisenhower, and he accepted this position with the permission of Church President David O. McKay. He retained his United States Cabinet place throughout the two terms of the Eisenhower Administration without yielding his position in the Quorum of the Twelve. In office, he was criticized for his opposition to government price supports and such aid to farmers. Upon starting his service in this office, he suggested starting each cabinet meeting with a prayer. President Eisenhower agreed to the suggestion and kept the prayer as the opening event to every cabinet meeting during his administration.

Benson succeeded Kimball as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973, and as President of the Church in 1985. Known for his political conservatism, he was comparatively moderate once he attained the church's highest office. During his early years as Church President he brought a renewed emphasis on the distribution and reading of The Book of Mormon, reaffirming the LDS scripture's importance as "the keystone of [the Mormon] religion."

In the years before his death President Benson suffered from poor health, suffering from blood clots in the brain, strokes, and heart attacks. During this time, Benson never appeared in public, and First Counselor Gordon B. Hinckley took on many of Benson's official duties, as he had done as Second Counselor in Kimball's last years. Joining Hinckley in this task was Thomas S. Monson, and the both of them received legal power of attorney to act in Benson's behalf in LDS corporate affairs. Important ecclesiastical and family documents continued to be signed in Benson's name, with the aid of a signature machine.

There was some controversy as to whether Benson's actual mental health during this time was accurately portrayed by the Church. According to Church spokesman Don LeFevre, Hinckley and Monson reviewed major church decisions with Benson in his home, where he was attended by a staff of nurses. However, according to Benson's grandson Steve Benson, who later became a vocal critic of the church, the elder Benson by about 1993 was living in a sweatsuit, fed by others, and incapable of recognizing others or speaking coherently. Steve Benson stated that in a private meeting with apostle Dallin H. Oaks, Oaks explained to the younger Benson that the apostles rotated in pairs each week to visit the elder Benson at the apartment socially, but that Benson was incapable of conducting official business. Other members of the Benson family, who remain devout Latter-day Saints, have distanced themselves from Steve Benson's statements.

Benson was buried in Whitney, Idaho.


Preceded by:
Spencer W. Kimball
President of the LDS Church
November 10 1985May 30 1994
Succeeded by:
Howard W. Hunter
Preceded by:
Spencer W. Kimball
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
December 30 1973November 10 1985
Succeeded by:
Marion G. Romney

Template:Series box

 
Preceded by:
Charles F. Brannan
United States Secretary of Agriculture
1953–1961
Succeeded by:
Orville Freeman

Template:End box

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