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In 45 chronological episodes, the “Presidential” podcast takes listeners on an epic historical journey through the personality and legacy of each of the American presidents. Created and hosted by Washington Post reporter Lillian Cunningham, “Presidential” features interviews with the country’s greatest experts on the presidency, including Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, Jon Meacham and Bob Woodward. Start listening at the very beginning, with the life of George Washington, or jump ahead to any president whose story you want to better understand.



Triumph, tragedy and the fate of the center

Four years later, the “Presidential” podcast adds a new biography to its cadre of American presidents. This special episode explores Joe Biden's decades-long, hard-fought personal and political path to the White House, with the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. [Read more]


Welcome to Presidential

Preview the Washington Post podcast, with clips from upcoming episodes and an overview of the series by host Lillian Cunningham. [Read more]

George Washington

The man, the myth, the legend

Post reporters Bob Woodward and Joel Achenbach, and Julie Miller from the Library of Congress, examine George Washington's traits--from fearless action hero and charismatic dancer to insecure and reluctant president. [Read more]

John Adams

The case of the missing monument

Biographer David McCullough, Julie Miller of the Library of Congress, Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post, and Kirk Savage of the University of Pittsburgh explore why there's no monument to John Adams in the nation's capital. [Read more]

Thomas Jefferson

On food and freedom

Jon Meacham and Annette Gordon-Reed are among the experts who walk us through the best and worst of our third president's complex and controversial legacy. [Read more]

James Madison

Burning down the house

Though he's our first wartime president, James Madison is usually better remembered for his work on the constitution rather than his time as commander-in-chief while the White House went up in flames. But maybe that's the wrong way to look at it. [Read more]

James Monroe

The Forrest Gump of presidents

In the latest episode of Presidential, we look at our fifth president's knack for being present at famous moments in history. [Read more]

John Quincy Adams

The trait that broke a presidency

Scholars Charles Edel and Fred Kaplan, along with Washington Post journalist Katie Zezima, explore the main leadership characteristic that doomed the presidency of John Quincy Adams. [Read more]

Andrew Jackson

The violence, the fight

Barbara Bair, Steve Inskeep and Jon Meacham examine the tragedy of Andrew Jackson's personal life, the brutality of his battles and his policies against Native Americans, and the conflict that makes up a dynamic democracy. [Read more]

Martin Van Buren

The story of our two-party system

He may not have been a very memorable president, but Van Buren did much to create the party establishments we have today. Experts Barbara Bair and Mark Cheathem, along with Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza, examine his mark on modern politics. [Read more]

William Henry Harrison

Great song, horrible death

Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri, along with experts Barbara Bair and Dr. Philip Mackowiak, deconstruct Harrison's transformative presidential campaign and debunk the myth of what killed him after only 32 days in office. [Read more]

John Tyler

Ghosts and the vice presidency

When Vice President Tyler takes over the White House, he sets a precedent that would forever shape the office. This episode features experts Barbara Bair and Joel Goldstein, as well as descendants who talk about the ghost who haunts the Tyler home. [Read more]

James K. Polk

Getting it done

They Might Be Giants singer John Linnell and historian Amy Greenberg are this episode's guests. Through hard work and strategic lying, the 11th president managed to accomplish everything on his agenda. But is being effective the same as being great? [Read more]

Zachary Taylor

War heroes and conspiracy theory

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank joins historians Catherine Clinton and Joseph Uscinski to talk about military hero Zachary Taylor and the assassination theories that swirled around his death in the White House. [Read more]

Millard Fillmore

Teaching the obscure presidents

Should we teach the presidency of Millard Fillmore? What do we lose if we don't? Historians Jean Baker and James McPherson, along with researcher Henry Roediger and education reporter T. Rees Shapiro, tackle these questions in our 13th episode. [Read more]

Franklin Pierce

Rolling off the tracks

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer James McPherson and historian Edna Greene Medford discuss Franklin Pierce's role in the country's progression toward civil war, as well as the personal tragedy that unfolded right before he took office. [Read more]

James Buchanan

The bachelor and the bloodshed

America is on the eve of civil war, and James Buchanan is alone in the White House as our first and only bachelor president. Historians Jean Baker and Jim Loewen, and The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley, explore the lack of personal and political union. [Read more]

Abraham Lincoln

His hand and his pen

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of 'Team of Rivals,' and Michelle Krowl of the Library of Congress guide us through Lincoln's love for language--and how his gift for writing and oratory became one of his greatest presidential leadership tools. [Read more]

Andrew Johnson

Stitching up a torn country

What kind of president can repair America's deepest divisions? Michelle Krowl of the Library of Congress walks us through Andrew Johnson's time in office right after the Civil War and sheds light on why he struggled to bring the country together. [Read more]

Ulysses S. Grant

Lover, fighter, writer

Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs are considered the best ever written by a president. In this episode, Washington Post nonfiction book critic Carlos Lozada and biographer David Maraniss discuss what they found funny, touching and illuminating about the work. [Read more]

Rutherford B. Hayes

The most contested election

How does a vicious, close and disputed election spill over into a presidency? We examine the razor-thin election results for Rutherford B. Hayes, and the equally fine line he then had to tread as president during the end of Reconstruction. [Read more]

James A. Garfield

Shot down

Only 100 days into office, President Garfield was shot down in a train station by a disturbed office seeker. 'Destiny of the Republic' author Candice Millard, along with Michelle Krowl of the Library of Congress, examine the life cut short. [Read more]

Chester A. Arthur


How does one of the greatest beneficiaries of the spoils system end up being the president who passes civil service reform? Post reporter David Fahrenthold and Stateline editor Scott Greenberger tell the amazing story of Arthur's personal transformation. [Read more]

Grover Cleveland

Tell the truth

Known for his forthrightness, Cleveland came clean when news broke that he had fathered an illegitimate child; yet he later covered up a cancer surgery at sea. Guests Matthew Algeo, Michelle Krowl and Roman Mars explore candor and the presidency. [Read more]

Benjamin Harrison

The president as conservationist

Benjamin Harrison was the first U.S. president to use his position to try to save a species, the fur seal. He also set aside more than 13 million acres of forest reserves. This episode looks at the roots of conservation as a presidential responsibility. [Read more]

William McKinley

The modern campaign

Republican political strategist Karl Rove dissects what was so transformative about William McKinley's 1896 presidential campaign; and Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig discusses how his assassination modernized the Secret Service. [Read more]

Theodore Roosevelt


Biographer David McCullough and historian Michelle Krowl take us inside the wild, unstoppable dynamism of Teddy Roosevelt, whose energy and activism redefined the role of American president. [Read more]

William Howard Taft

This chief, not that chief

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of 'The Bully Pulpit,' along with historian Michelle Krowl and Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes discuss why President Taft made a better chief justice than commander-in-chief. [Read more]

Woodrow Wilson

A complicated legacy

Racism, diplomacy, women's suffrage...historian John Milton Cooper and Woodrow Wilson House executive director Robert Enholm lead us through Wilson's complicated personal and presidential legacy. [Read more]

Warren G. Harding

Love and scandal

Steamy love letters. Jazz. Scandal. Psychics. Newspapers. The Hope Diamond. Historian Nicole Hemmer helps guide us through the wild life and presidency of Warren G. Harding. [Read more]

Calvin Coolidge

A tale of two Coolidges

Former politician Michael Dukakis, biographer Amity Shlaes and political scientist Robert Gilbert join Washington Post economics reporter Steven Pearlstein to discuss what each of them finds worth reexamining about Coolidge's legacy. [Read more]

Herbert Hoover

Dealing with disaster

Herbert Hoover entered the White House with an array of high-profile experiences leading disaster relief. So why was his handling of the Great Depression considered a failure? Biographer Charles Rappleye guest stars. [Read more]

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Through Eleanor's eyes

Allida Black, editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt papers, along with FDR Library Director Paul Sparrow and White House speechwriter Sarada Peri, examine Franklin Roosevelt's leadership through the lens of the first lady's own contributions to his presidency. [Read more]

Harry S. Truman

Trying to make the right call

Biographer David McCullough looks at some of the most difficult decisions President Truman made during his time in the White House, and Washington Post polling manager Scott Clement examines the biggest polling failure in presidential history. [Read more]

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Covert action

Stephen Kinzer, author of "The Brothers," and historian Will Hitchcock explore President Eisenhower's predilection for covert action--both in foreign affairs and in his own leadership style. [Read more]

John F. Kennedy

We are all mortal

Robert Dallek, Michael Beschloss and Fredrik Logevall--three major Kennedy historians and biographers--join us on this week's episode to talk about JFK and death. But not his assassination... [Read more]

Lyndon B. Johnson


The LBJ Presidential Library's director, Mark Updegrove, helps us examine how Johnson worked his will--at times darkly--to get some of the most transformative legislation of the 20th century through Congress. [Read more]

Richard Nixon

Looking inward

Bob Woodward, one of the Washington Post investigative reporters who helped uncover the Watergate scandal, examines what was at the heart of Richard Nixon's presidential downfall. The Washington Post's current executive editor, Marty Baron, joins as well. [Read more]

Gerald Ford

It's personal

The president's son Steven Ford joins White House photographer David Hume Kennerly and Berkeley professor Daniel Sargent to talk about how Gerald Ford's experience working across the aisle in Congress affected his leadership style as president. [Read more]

Jimmy Carter

Keeping the faith

Longtime Carter political adviser Pat Caddell, theologian and biographer Randall Balmer, and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa examine how Jimmy Carter's faith has shaped his leadership in and out of the White House. [Read more]

Ronald Reagan

Myths and truths

Lou Cannon, biographer and senior White House correspondent for The Washington Post during President Reagan's administration, helps us separate the fact from fiction about who Ronald Reagan really was. [Read more]

George H. W. Bush


Historians Jon Meacham and Jeffrey Engel discuss President Bush's unique form of presidential leadership--a vintage combination of public service, conservatism and emotional restraint--and examine why his legacy has grown more positive over time. [Read more]

Bill Clinton

The good and the bad

David Maraniss, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Bill Clinton, explores how his core character traits had both a bright and a dark side. And Washington Post reporter Jim Tankersley examines how his policy legacy has had a similar duality. [Read more]

George W. Bush

Changing course

Peter Baker, author of "Days of Fire" and a journalist with the New York Times, joins historian Mark Updegrove to examine how George W. Bush's presidency marked the beginning of a new era in American history. [Read more]

Barack Obama

The pursuit of identity

Political strategist David Axelrod and biographer David Maraniss discuss Barack Obama's search for identity -- and how that quest has paralleled America's own complex reckoning with race. [Read more]

Donald Trump

Division and union

In this final episode of the podcast, Library of Congress historians Michelle Krowl and Julie Miller return--along with Washington Post journalist Dan Balz--to reflect on the changing nature of the American presidency. [Read more]

Joe Biden

Triumph, tragedy and the fate of the center

Four years later, the “Presidential” podcast adds a new biography to its cadre of American presidents. This special episode explores Joe Biden's decades-long, hard-fought personal and political path to the White House, with the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. [Read more]


"Presidential" is the first in a series of podcasts by Washington Post journalist Lillian Cunningham.

Over the course of 44 weekly audio episodes — stretching from January 2016 through Election Day in November — Cunningham chronicled her effort to better understand the lives, legacies and leadership styles of all of the U.S. presidents. She interviewed prominent biographers, historians, White House correspondents and even presidential relatives to create intimate, revealing portraits of each commander in chief week after week. At the heart of the podcast series was this question: What makes for a great American president, and how has that changed over time?

For those seeking to better understand the story of America, and to what extent a single leader — for good or for ill — can change the course of a nation, the "Presidential" podcast is required listening. The series was an Academy of Podcasters finalist for best news and politics podcast, as well as a Webby Awards honoree. It has been downloaded by millions of listeners worldwide since its launch.

In 2017 and 2018, The Post released Cunningham’s second podcast series, "Constitutional," which explored important fights over the U.S. Constitution throughout American history and influential figures who shaped and reshaped the words and spirit of that document over time.

Cunningham's third podcast series, "Moonrise," launched in 2019 — the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — and explores the real origin story of America's decision to go to the moon. The podcast digs into declassified presidential documents, the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, and even the birth of science fiction, to unearth a story that has so much to reveal about our country — and about being human on this Earth.

In 2020, "Presidential" returned with topical bonus episodes for avid listeners, including one on the origin story of the Lincoln Memorial as a protest site and one on Woodrow Wilson’s handling of the 1918 flu pandemic. You can find those and others on the Special Episodes page. Cunningham also released a 45th official episode in the "Presidential" canon — and episode on Joe Biden, following his election in November 2020.


Lillian Cunningham has been a journalist with The Washington Post since 2010. She began as the editor and feature writer of The Post’s "On Leadership" section. As part of that work, she was awarded a 2011 Emmy and a 2016 Emmy for a series of video interviews she conducted with leaders in business, politics and the arts. It was the experience covering leadership news and issues that led her to dream up the "Presidential" podcast, which she envisioned as a way to investigate the historical successes and failures of various leadership styles in the White House. She was host, editor and producer of the series. She has since become The Post’s enterprise reporter for audio, working on serialized podcasts including "Constitutional" and "Moonrise."


The presidential figurines of George Washington through Richard Nixon were made by Louis Marx & Co. Figurines of Gerald Ford through Joe Biden were made by Patric M. Verrone. Photos and art direction were by Amy King, and the background illustrations in the photos were made by Craig & Karl for The Washington Post. The design and development was led by Jake Crump. The original music for the podcast, featuring various renditions of "Hail to the Chief," was composed by Dave Westner for The Washington Post.



For "Presidential" content specifically, follow @presidential_wp. For tweets from host Lillian Cunningham and updates about future podcasts, follow @lily_cunningham. For general Washington Post news and commentary, follow @washingtonpost.


For historical images of the U.S. presidency, follow @presidential_wp. For host Lillian Cunningham’s feed, follow @lilliancunningham.


Lillian Cunningham: The audio team at The Post: Media and speaking inquiries:


The "Constitutional" podcast: Listen here The "Moonrise" podcast: Listen here



"Presidential" is an audio podcast comprising 45 episodes, each around 40 minutes in length, which can be listened to on your computer or mobile device whenever and wherever you would like. It’s free and doesn’t require any special software. Just click "play" on an episode to start listening. Ready to dive in? Visit the Episodes page to listen to the podcast on The Washington Post site, or find it on these other audio platforms: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and RadioPublic.


We recommend starting with "Episode 1: George Washington" and working your way up in time, president by president. But it’s fine to skip ahead to "Episode 21: Chester Arthur" if you just can’t wait.


We are already at work on new podcasts, but we are always happy to hear suggestions for future series. In fact, that’s how we got the idea for both "Constitutional" and "Moonrise." You can email the show creator directly at


We do not yet have release dates for podcasts coming in 2021 and beyond. However, you can be the first to know by signing up here for an email alert, or by following Lillian Cunningham’s Twitter account.


Yes! You asked for them, so we published them. You can find an episode’s transcript by going to the Episodes page, then looking for the "Transcript" link next to each episode’s audio player. If you’re a teacher, you can also find a "Presidential" lesson plan for your students on our Education page.


Due to the nature of our production schedule, it is usually hard to coordinate classroom visits. The best way to inquire about opportunities such as conference panels or school-wide talks is to contact


Unfortunately the theme music is not publicly available at this time. But we’re so glad you like it!


The presidential figurines of George Washington through Richard Nixon were made by Louis Marx & Co., and the figurines of Gerald Ford through Joe Biden were made by Patric M. Verrone. You can often find old collector’s sets online through sites like eBay, and you can find Verrone’s newer sets here.

For the Classroom

We’ve heard from many teachers that “Presidential” is a great tool in the classroom. While that wasn’t our intention at the outset, we’re so excited that it has found a second life as an educational resource and we want to make it as easy as possible for teachers to incorporate it into their lesson planning.

At teachers’ requests, we have created printable transcripts of every episode. You can find them by going to the Episodes page, then looking for the “Transcript” link to the right of each episode’s audio player.

We also worked with our colleagues at Newspaper in Education to create lesson plans that teachers can use to help structure academic exercises around the podcast. Below you will find downloadable PDFs of the three lesson plans — one based off the George Washington episode, one based off the Andrew Jackson episode and one based off the Abraham Lincoln episode. All three of these lesson plans explore questions of presidential leadership and are designed for use in high-school U.S. history classrooms, though they can be adapted by teachers for use with younger or older students as well. Read and download them here:

Lesson plans: Presidential leadership

Making the podcast

We hope the questions, exercises and additional materials contained in these guides will give teachers different ideas and options for how to engage students in learning more about presidential history. For example, some teachers might tease out a single question to use as an in-class activity — they can pose the question, play a relevant clip of the podcast, then have students break into small groups to discuss. Other teachers might provide extra credit to students who listen to the podcast at home and complete the entire packet of questions on their own by the end of the quarter.

However you choose to use these guides, we hope they will serve as a useful springboard for your teaching goals. Note that, in addition to providing questions on the particular president, each lesson plan also broadens out to engage students in questions of how that president’s life, leadership style and legacy intersect with those of other presidents throughout history. Each plan also includes, at the end, some further reading from The Post’s archive that relates to the office of the presidency but may or may not directly tie to the podcast episode itself.

For additional suggestions on how to create educational exercises and activities around these “Presidential” lesson plans, please visit the Newspaper in Education site.

Dive Deeper

Has listening to “Presidential” sparked a deeper interest in presidential history? Here are some ways you can keep learning, even after you’ve finished the podcast.


Many of the guests on our episodes are prominent historians and biographers who have written in great depth about the presidency, so we put together a reading list to complement the podcast. It features books that are either mentioned in “Presidential” episodes or are penned by our guests. It also includes books that Post readers voted the best presidential biographies. See the list


After publishing the podcast, we heard from lots of listeners who wanted transcripts of the episodes so they could easily reread portions of their favorite interviews or use them in a classroom setting. We have since published downloadable and printable versions, which you can find by clicking on the “Transcript” link next to each episode on our Episodes page. Go to the episodes


The Washington Post has been covering the American presidency from the nation’s capital for decades, and The Post’s site is a great repository of presidential stories from history. (For example, read this breakdown of how The Post originally reported on President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.) The Post also has a blog called Retropolis and a podcast called “Retropod” that might be of particular interest to “Presidential” listeners. It focuses on fascinating stories from the past, rediscovered. Listen to the Retropod podcast


While numerous institutions across the country contributed their experts and expertise to the “Presidential” podcast, there are two in particular that served as constant resources on the project from beginning to end. The staff of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress dedicated an incredible amount of time and knowledge to helping us sift through their large collection of presidential papers, much of which is available online. And the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was another invaluable resource, especially its robust collection of presidential profiles and archived speeches.


Originally published Jan. 5, 2016. Presidential figurines of George Washington through Richard Nixon by the Louis Marx Toy Company. Figurines of Gerald Ford through Barack Obama were made by Patric M. Verrone. Photos and art direction by Amy King. Background illustrations in photos by Craig & Karl. Page design and development by Emily Chow and Jake Crump.