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The End of Benson’s Political Aspirations (Part 11 of 13)

Ezra Taft Benson wanted to run for U.S. President. Dr. Matt Harris describes a few attempts by Benson to run for POTUS, and how Church leaders finally put an end to Benson’s political aspirations.

Matt: The Birchers will create this secret organization called the Committee of 1776. It’s run by Birchers. It’s got Birch footprints all over it, but “we can’t reveal ourselves as Birchers because it’s too controversial.” And they say this in their board meeting. “If we say it’s us, then people will be turned off by it. So do not mention that Robert Welch or anybody is behind this. But it’s really mostly Birchers doing this.

So they draft Benson as their presidential candidate and they draft a man named Strom Thurmond, who was a Dixiecrat in the 1940’s, and split off from the Democratic Party because he was so pro-segregation and didn’t like the civil rights tack that President Harry Truman was taking.

And, without going into the details, the ticket fizzles. It doesn’t raise enough money. Thurman never had the buy-in, to be honest, that Benson had. Benson was alarmed by it and just giddy about it. President McKay gives the green light for him to do this, by the way, which is interesting, over the protest, of Hugh Brown and some other leaders.

Elder Benson and his son Reed fly out to Birmingham and they have a three hour meeting with George Wallace and Benson tells Robert Welch, “He’s a great guy. We have a lot in common.” So, Benson tells Governor Wallace, “I need to get the support of President McKay. I can’t do this unilaterally.” President McKay knew that there was some pushback when he gave the green light to run with Strom Thurmond. Some of the Apostles told him, including Hugh Brown, “This is stupid. Don’t do this.”

McKay is an old Scottish man. He had a little temper. “Don’t tell me what to do.” The brethren were sensitive to that, including Hugh B. Brown. So he goes back to Salt Lake and tells President McKay in a highly confidential meeting, “They want me to be the presidential candidate with Wallace.” This is on the Independent ticket because there’s a Republican Mormon who might wrap up the Republican nomination. So we’ve got two high profile Mormons running for the same office.

GT: This is George Romney, right?

Matt: George Romney, right. What really muddies the water is there are a number of brethren who support George Romney and not Benson. That’s another challenging issue.

GT: And Marion G. Romney is in the quorum. How is he related to George?

Matt: They’re cousins. So, we’ve got that dynamic going on, too. Romney has gotten priesthood blessings from President McKay, from other people about running and they tell him, “You’re going to run and we support you.” President McKay supports George Romney and tells him this.

If you were’t aware, George Romney is the father of Mitt Romney.  Harris tells how LDS leaders ended Benson’s political ambitions.
Byt the way, Harris’ book on Benson is now available for purchase on Amazon!  See https://amzn.to/2EHTklK

Check out our conversation….

Dr. Matt Harris describes Ezra Taft Benson's attempts to run for POTUS and how his political career ended.
Dr. Matt Harris describes Ezra Taft Benson’s attempts to run for POTUS and how his political career ended.

Our other interviews about Benson.

252: Benson on Civil Rights & Communism (Harris)

251: Benson and John Birch Society (Harris)

250: How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower (Harris)

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Benson & the John Birch Society (Part 9 of 13)

If you were born after 1975, you may not have heard of the John Birch Society.  Dr. Matt Harris tells us more about this group, and President Benson’s allegiance to this anti-communist group.  Check out our conversation….

Matt:   He meets a man named Robert Welch who founds this very controversial anticommunist organization called the John Birch Society, named after a fallen GI in World War II, John Birch. Welch organizes the Birch Society in 1958. He writes an extremely controversial book that will get him pilloried in the national press. It’s called The Politician. He writes it in ’58, but it’s not published until ’63.

So it’s this big long manuscript that he shares privately with some friends and Benson will get a copy of this manuscript before it’s published in book form. In the manuscript, it says that Eisenhower and members of his cabinet are communists. He also said that Milton Eisenhower, the president’s brother and close advisor, is also commie. He spells out several people. He says that the CIA director, John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State–they’re all commies. He gives several reasons why. Eisenhower doesn’t curtail the New Deal policies. This is liberal new deal. Of course, a lot of conservatives at the time thought that liberalism equated to socialism and communism. Well, one of the things that President Eisenhower doesn’t do is drastically roll back the New Deal and that leaves him open for criticism among people like Robert Welch. There’s some other things. Welch criticizes some decisions that President Eisenhower had made, General Eisenhower had made during World War II and somehow that equates to communism. I mean, really, it’s far reaching here.

I guess what surprises me is how Benson turns on Eisenhower, after the two had been such good friends!

Henry D. Moyle is in the First Presidency when this letter is sent out. He’s a Democrat and Hugh B. Brown’s a Democrat, too, the other counselor at the time. You can imagine they’re just mortified over this. Here’s a moderate Republican now getting accused of being a commie–a five-star general who spent his entire adult life fighting communism and now his erstwhile cabinet secretary accuses him of being a commie.

Moyle calls him in. He calls him Taft. Moyle called Taft in and one participant, or one witness said, “He ripped Taft, ripped him.” One of the things he said was, “How could you be disloyal to President Eisenhower like this?” You can imagine that as he’s sending this around, his son, in the meantime joins the Birch Society and becomes a high ranking official in the Birch Society. He’s the National Communications Director, I think, is one of his titles. And he’s going around giving speeches to Birch audiences, both in Utah, Idaho, actually one here in Denver, Colorado. He calls President Eisenhower a commie, out in the open–the news media is there.

GT: Reed Benson?

Matt:  Reed Benson, yeah. Ezra is a little more circumspect. President–Elder Benson at that point knew that it probably wasn’t good karma to give speeches, you know, so his son would do that. But Elder Benson did get himself into trouble in 1963.

Check out our conversation, as well as our first conversation about how Benson joined the Eisenhower cabinet.

Ezra Taft Benson, and his son Reed, were big supporters of the John Birch Society
Ezra Taft Benson, and his son Reed, were big supporters of the John Birch Society