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Hughes was born near Corunna, Ontario, Canada. He immigrated to the United States as a youth, graduating from Business school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1875. He worked as a bank messenger, travelling salesman, and a businessman before being elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1888, serving a two-year term. He was a member of the West Virginia Senate from 1894 to 1898. In 1896, Hughes was appointed postmaster of Huntington, West Virginia. He was a delegate to every Republican National Convention from 1892 to 1924.
In 1900, Hughes was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives and was elected six additional times before choosing not to run again in 1914. During his time as a Representative, he served as chair of the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings and as chair of the Committee on Accounts. After eleven years of retirement he was re-elected to the House in 1926. He served two terms before dying in office on March 2, 1930, in Marion, Ohio. He was interred in Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington.