13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899 – May 30, 1994) was the thirteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985 until his death and was United States Secretary of Agriculture for both terms of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Born on a farm in Whitney, Idaho, President Benson was the oldest of eleven children. He was the great-grandson of Ezra T. Benson. Beginning his academic career at Utah State University, he was a 1926 graduate of Brigham Young University (after serving a church mission in Britain from 1921 to 1923). He received his masters degree from Iowa State University and did preliminary work on a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. President Benson pursued a career in agriculture and later served in many church leadership positions. Just after receiving his masters he returned to Whitney to run the family farm, but later became the county agriculture extension agent. In 1926 he married Flora Smith Amussen; they had six children.
In 1939, when he was president of the 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 the first president of a new stake there.
On October 7, 1943, he was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling two vacancies created by the deaths of apostles that summer. In 1953, President Benson was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by President Eisenhower. President Benson opposed the system of government price supports and aid to farmers which he was entrusted by Eisenhower to administer, arguing that it amounted to unacceptable socialism.
President Benson was an outspoken opponent of communism and socialism, and supporter, but not a member, of the John Birch Society, which he praised as “the most effective non-church organization in our fight against creeping socialism and Godless Communism.” He published a 1966 pamphlet entitled Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception.
President Benson succeeded President Spencer W. Kimball as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973, and as President of the Church in 1985. During his early years as Church President, President Benson brought a renewed emphasis to the distribution and reading of the Book of Mormon, reaffirming this LDS scripture’s importance as “the keystone of [the LDS] religion.”
In August 1989, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George H. W. Bush.