(Backgrounds by Craig & Karl for The Washington Post; Photo by Amy King/The Washington Post)

The newest episode of the Presidential podcast explores the presidency of Franklin Pierce and his role in the country's progression toward civil war.

James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, guides our exploration of Pierce's tenure in the White House, between 1853 and 1857; along with Edna Greene Medford, who chairs Howard University's department of history. They discuss not only the policies that happen on the 14th president's watch, but also the personal tragedy that unfolds right before he takes office.

Listen to the episode here:

In previous episodes of the Presidential podcast, we've explored topics like the transformational campaign of William Henry Harrison and the violent life of Andrew Jackson. The podcast is hosted by Lillian Cunningham, editor of The Washington Post's On Leadership section.

As listeners tune in each week, the podcast reveals the ways in which our collective sense of what’s ’presidential’ has evolved over the years and how each president—esteemed, loathed or nearly forgotten—has something to tell us about what it takes to hold the nation’s highest office.

A new episode comes out every Sunday. Here's how to follow along: