Continuing Quest for the U.S. Presidency
Ezra Taft Benson, as President Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture from 1953 to 1961, emerged as a leading spokesman for political conservatism on matters dealing with farming. After leaving that post in 1961, Benson felt compelled to expand his conservative agenda to other matters during the turbulent 1960s, specifically the threat of communism and the fledgling civil rights movement. A by-product of Benson's unrelenting concern with these issues was his willingness to entertain the possibility of national political office, culminating in two efforts in 1968. The first was an attempt by the so-called “Committee of 1976”--a John Birch front group to draft Benson as its third-party presidential candidate, along with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond as a vice-presidential running mate. When this effort failed, George Wallace, Alabama's pro-segregationist governor, actively sought Benson as his vice-presidential running mate on his self-styled American Independent Party ticket. This essay considers the following questions: Why did Benson feel compelled to thrust himself into the national political arena in a controversial, confrontational manner? What role did Benson's Mormonism play in this effort? How did Mormon leaders and the rank-and-file members react to Benson's presidential ambitions?
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