Pugh was born in Burke County, Georgia, and moved to Alabama in 1824. He received a collegiate education, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1841. He began to practise in Eufaula, Alabama. He was a presidential elector in 1848 and 1856. He represented Alabama's second district as a Democrat in the United State House of Representatives from 5 December 1859 until 21 January 1861, when he retired upon the secession of his state.
He then served as an officer in the Confederate States Army. He was subsequently elected as a representative to both the First Confederate Congress and the Second Confederate Congress, serving from 22 February 1862 until the surrender in 1865.
Following the war, he returned to his law practise. Upon the restoration of his citizenship, Pugh was president of the Democratic state convention of 1874, a delegate to the 1875 state constitutional convention, and a presidential elector again in 1876. He was elected to fill the term left by the death of George S. Houston, and was reelected twice, serving in the Senate from November 24, 1880 to March 3, 1897. He did not run for a fourth term.
- PUGH, James Lawrence at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2009-04-20
- "Pugh, James Lawrence". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. This source says he served as a private in the Confederate army.
- Political graveyard
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