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

The newest episode of the Presidential podcast explores the American presidency on the eve of civil war.

Historians Jean Baker and Jim Loewen guide our exploration of James Buchanan's time in the White House, between 1857 and 1861. They discuss how Buchanan's bachelorhood affected his leadership, why many historians now think he may have been homosexual, and the extent to which Buchanan's support of the South further divided the country.

Later in the episode, Washington Post reporter Jim Tankersley explains the economic divisions between the North and South in these years just before the war.

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: