Robert William Hughes

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Robert William Hughes
Judge of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
In office
January 14, 1874 – February 22, 1898
Nominated byUlysses S. Grant
Preceded byJohn C. Underwood
Succeeded byEdmund Waddill Jr.
Personal details
Born(1821-01-16)January 16, 1821
Powhatan County, Virginia
DiedDecember 10, 1901(1901-12-10) (aged 80)
Abingdon, Virginia
Spouse(s)Eliza M. Johnston

Robert William Hughes (January 16, 1821 – December 10, 1901) was a Virginia newspaperman, lawyer, and federal judge.

Family and early life[edit]

Born at Muddy Creek Plantation in Powhatan County, Virginia, Hughes was of an old Virginia family, whose ancestors came to the area of Powhatan County before 1700,[1] when it was still Goochland County.

He attended Caldwell Institute, Greensboro, North Carolina, then studied law in Fincastle, Virginia.

In 1850, at the Governor's mansion, Hughes married Joseph E. Johnston's niece, Eliza M. Johnston, who was the adopted daughter of then-Governor John B. Floyd.

Hughes practiced law in Richmond from 1846-1853. Among his acquaintances in Richmond was Edgar Allan Poe.[2]

Hughes's son, Robert M. Hughes, was a distinguished Virginia lawyer, and one of the early presidents of the Virginia Bar Association.

Secessionist Democratic newspaperman[edit]

From 1850 to 1866, he contributed to a series of newspapers in Richmond and Washington, D.C., primarily the Richmond Examiner. He took over as editor of the Examiner when the regular editor, John Moncure Daniel, left the country as U.S. Minister to Sardinia.

In connection with the statewide elections of 1855, Hughes editorialized against the Know Nothing movement in Virginia, pointing out that Yankees and abolitionists, not immigrants and Roman Catholics, were the true threats to the Southern way of life. "Why are Northern Abolitionists and Know Nothings persecuting and proscribing foreigners and Catholics?" he wrote. "It is because they have always refused to join with them in their outcry against slavery and the South."[3]

In 1857, Hughes left Richmond at the invitation of President James Buchanan to edit the Democratic newspaper, the Washington Union. His papers at the College of William & Mary include, among other things, a receipt for the purchase of two slaves in 1862.[4] Hughes favored secession but was critical of the administration of Jefferson Davis.

Hughes served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, then returned to his pre-war occupation as a newspaper editor in Richmond.

Post-War Republican politician[edit]

After the War, Hughes became "one of the first prominent Virginians to turn Republican during the Reconstruction period."[5] Earlier, he "was an extreme secessionist, but after the war he became a moderate Republican and a favorite of President Grant, causing many of his old friends to consider him 'worse than a carpetbagger' and a 'Judas.'"[6]

In June, 1869, he shot and wounded a rival newspaperman and future Governor of Virginia, William E. Cameron, in a duel, after Cameron had published a "scathing" editorial about the transformation of Hughes's political views.[7] According to one account, "the parties met at Chester Station, on the Petersburg Railroad; but, before they could exchange a shot, the police made their appearance, and caused a flight of the parties. They passed into North Carolina, where they fought on June 12 with pistols. Cameron was hit in the breast at the first fire, the ball striking a rib and glancing. Hughes demanded another fire, but the surgeons declared that Cameron could not deliver another shot, and the affair ended 'to the satisfaction of all parties.'"[8]

Before and after the War, Hughes practiced law for some periods in Abingdon, Virginia, and had some affiliation with some predecessors of the Norfolk & Western railroad.[9] He was appointed as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in 1870, losing to William Terry, and in 1872, losing to Tazewell County farmer Rees Bowen.[10]

He resigned as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia in 1873 for his unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Virginia, against James L. Kemper. At the Republican convention attended by white and black delegates, out of two candidates, "it was seen that Col. Hughes was the stronger man, especially among the colored delegates."[11] In accepting the Republican nomination, Hughes gave a speech applauding the fairness of the Reconstruction amendments, and condemned his opponents for running on the slogan of "Virginia for White Virginians."[12] "Colonel Robert W. Hughes, at the time of his nomination, was the strongest and most popular Republican in Virginia. . . . There are no Republicans in Virginia, and very few in the whole South, who can command the respect that Judge Hughes enjoys."[13]

Federal judge[edit]

Hughes was nominated by Ulysses S. Grant on December 15, 1873, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, to succeed the hated former abolitionist John Curtiss Underwood, who had died suddenly the previous week. The United States Senate confirmed his appointment on January 14, 1874.

In 1879, in the case of Ex parte Kinney, 3 Hughes 9, 14 F.Cas. 602, Judge Hughes denied habeas corpus relief to a black petitioner who had married a white woman in Washington, D.C., then returned to Virginia, and was convicted under Virginia law of traveling out-of-state to marry and sentenced to five years of hard labor.[14] "But the Kinney court went on to declare that Virginia could not enforce its law against nondomiciliaries nor exclude altogether interracial couples domiciled in the District of Columbia. 'That such a citizen would have a right of transit with his wife through Virginia, and of temporary stoppage, and of carrying on any business here not requiring residence, may be conceded, because these are privileges following a citizen of the United States . . . .'"[15]

The same year, in the Arlington Estate case, Judge Hughes addressed the jurisdictional issues raised by Custis Lee's ejectment action to recover the family property,[16] and concluded his opinion with these words: "If, then, it shall go up to the supreme court, as I doubt not it will do, I shall console myself with the memorable reflection of Lord Nottingham, in the case of the Duke of Norfolk: ‘I am not ashamed to have made this decision, nor will I be wounded if it should be reversed.'"[17]

In 1882, when a group of Republicans was seeking greater representation in governments, Hughes was mentioned as a possible member of a reconstituted Virginia Supreme Court.[18]

Judge Hughes sat mainly in Norfolk, but heard cases elsewhere in the district and also served as a visiting judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, in the interim between the retirement of Judge Alexander Rives in 1882 and the appointment of Judge John Paul in 1883.

Virginian, writer, patron of education[edit]

During his judicial career, Judge Hughes lived in the Mowbray Arch section of the Ghent neighborhood,[19] but kept a summer home near Abingdon.

His published works included five volumes of reports of federal court opinions.[20] In addition, Hughes published biographies of Generals Floyd and Johnston.[21] He was interested in economics, and published his comments on the American monetary system and matters of public finance in post-War Virginia. He also raised horses, including thoroughbreds registered with the American Jockey Club.

Hughes lectured on law at the University of Virginia, and served on its Board of Visitors from 1865-1872. He was also a trustee of the Hampton Institute, from 1870-1899.[22] At the graduation exercises in 1875,[23] Judge Hughes "said it was gratifying to put to rest the old belief that one race was inferior in capacity to the other."[24]

In 1881, the College of William & Mary conferred on Judge Hughes an honorary doctor of law degree.[25]

Judge Hughes retired in 1898. He died at the age of 80 and was buried in Sinking Springs Cemetery,[26] in Abingdon, Virginia.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "RootsWeb: VAPRINCE-L GENEALOGY OF JUDGE ROBERT W. HUGHES". rootsweb. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  2. ^ Woodberry, George (2006). The Life of Edgar Allan Poe: Personal and Literary. Kessinger Publishing (accessed via Google Books). ISBN 1-4254-8908-7.
  3. ^ Hambleton, James Pinckney (1856). A Biographical Sketch of Henry A. Wise, With a History of the Political Campaign in Virginia in 1855. Page 334, quoting R.W. Hughes in the Richmond Examiner, April 17, 1855.
  4. ^ "Afro-American Sources in Virginia: A Guide to Manuscripts". University of Virginia Press. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  5. ^ "Old Dominion University Libraries - Special Collections - Manuscripts". Old Dominion University. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  6. ^ "The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol.2, page 40, 1874-75, U. of Illinois Press". University of Illinois Press. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  7. ^ "Old Dominion University Libraries - Special Collections - Manuscripts". Old Dominion University. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  8. ^ Mott, Frank (2000). American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years, 1690-1940. Routledge (accessed via Google Books). ISBN 0-415-24144-8.
  9. ^ "The Bristol Convention". New River Notes. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  10. ^ Summers, Lewis Preston (1971). History of Southwest Virginia, 1746-1786, Washington County, 1777-1870. Genealogical Publishing (accessed via Google Books). ISBN 0-8063-7982-0.
  11. ^ "MAJOR R. W. HUGHES NOMINATED FOR GOVERNOR" (PDF). The New York Times, July 31, 1873. July 31, 1873. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
  12. ^ "VIRGINIA REPUBLICANS.; ADDRESS OF COL. HUGHES AT THE REPUBLICAN CONVEN..." (PDF). The New York Times, August 2, 1873. August 2, 1873. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  13. ^ Burton, Harrison (1877). The History of Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk Virginian Job Print (accessed via Google Books).
  16. ^ "George Washington Custis Lee". National Park Service. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  17. ^ Lee v. Kaufman, 3 Hughes 36, 15 F.Cas. 162 (C.C.Va. 1879).
  18. ^ "GEN. MAHONE'S PATRONAGE; THE STATE AUDITORSHIP AND THE STATE SUPREME COURT" (PDF). The New York Times, February 16, 1882. February 16, 1882. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
  19. ^ "Ghent History - The City of Norfolk, VA". The City of Norfolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  20. ^ Tyler, Lynn Gardiner, ed. (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. Lewis historical publishing company (accessed via Google Books).CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (accessed via Google Books). 1888.
  22. ^ Greenwood, Francis (1918). Education for Life: The Story of Hampton Institute. Doubleday, Page & Company (accessed via Google Books).
  23. ^ "The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol.2, page 49, 10 June 1875, U. of Illinois Press". University of Illinois Press. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  24. ^ "The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol.2, page 52, 10 June 1875, U. of Illinois Press". University of Illinois Press. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  25. ^ "Honorary degree recipients - Special Collections Research Center Wiki". The College of William & Mary, Swem Library. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  26. ^ "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Hughes". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved September 22, 2007.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
John Curtiss Underwood
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Virginia
Succeeded by
Edmund Waddill Jr.