Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Ezra Taft Benson (1953–1961): Secretary of Agriculture

Ezra Taft Benson was secretary of agriculture under President Eisenhower from January 21, 1953, to January 20, 1961. Benson attended Oneida Stake Academy in Preston, Idaho, from 1914 to 1918 and had just enrolled at Utah State Agricultural College when he was drafted into the Army in the waning months of the First World War.

After he returned to the United States, the Mormons sent him to Great Britain on a proselytizing mission from 1919 to 1921. Benson graduated from Brigham Young University in 1926 with a bachelor of science degree in animal husbandry and from Iowa State College in 1927 with a master's degree in agricultural economics.

He was actively involved in agriculture until 1938, when his church called him to be stake president. The following year, he moved to Washington, D.C., and became executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (1939-1944). Benson was ordained as one of the Mormon Church's twelve apostles in 1943 and was sent to coordinate Mormon relief in Europe in 1946.

As Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture, Benson opposed farming subsidies and favored flexible price supports instead. His experiences in Europe left him with a passionate anticommunism that often found its way into his speeches. After his work with the Eisenhower administration ended, Benson took reactionary positions on a variety of political and social issues. He became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a position that he held until his death in 1994.