Pim, Jonathan (1806–85), merchant, politician, and philanthropist, was born in Dublin, the eldest of seven children of Thomas Pim (qv), merchant, and Mary Pim (née Harvey), of Youghal, Co. Cork. The Pims were prominent quakers, established in Ireland since the seventeenth century. Thomas Pim and his brothers Jonathan Pim (1770–1841) and Joseph Robinson Pim (qv) founded the merchant business Pim Brothers & Co., which specialised in linen exports and poplin manufacturing from premises at 22 William St., and had a cotton spinning enterprise at Greenmount, Harold's Cross. Jonathan was educated at the quaker school in Ballitore, Co. Kildare. With his brother, William Harvey Pim (1811–78), he took over the family business, and under his management Pim Brothers pioneered a new type of department store on the site of an old barracks at South Great George's St.
From an early age Pim was concerned at the poverty and vulnerability of Irish tenant farmers and was one of those who endorsed the Statement of some of the causes of the disturbances in Ireland and of the miserable state of the peasantry (1826), a proposal drawn up by Irish quakers which called for landlordism to be replaced by peasant proprietorship. In November 1846, as famine became worse in much of Ireland after two successive failures of the potato crop, he was instrumental in setting up the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, of which he was joint secretary with Joseph Bewley (qv). This committee was highly effective in alerting quakers in Britain and America to the worsening situation in Ireland, and in raising and distributing relief. It raised about £200,000 and took an independent approach to relief, refusing to turn funds over to poor law unions. Unlike the government, it did not make total destitution a prerequisite of relief, and used interest-free loans to promote local industries and improve agricultural practices. Pim travelled through many of the most distressed areas to investigate conditions and gauge the effectiveness of relief schemes. He wrote numerous appeals for relief to Britain and North America and compiled the elaborate Transactions of the central relief committee (3 vols, 1852), which detailed the relief operations carried out by quakers during the famine, and included detailed statistics and recommendations for reforms. In this and subsequent reports Pim was deeply critical of the whig government's laissez-faire economic policies and its minimalist and unimaginative approach to relief. The massive workload involved in relief efforts contributed to Bewley's death in 1851, and Pim suffered a near collapse.
As well as being a good organiser, Pim was an effective pamphleteer and economic analyst. Believing that the misery of the famine had been caused largely by the unjust system of landholding in Ireland, particularly insecurity of tenure, he argued for an encumbered estates bill in an influential work, The condition and prospects of Ireland (1848). As well as detailing sixteen specific proposals to free estates for sale, the book accused the imperial government of ignorance, mismanagement, and over-centralisation in its relief efforts. It revealed strong fear of social unrest and revolution – unsurprising, given the year of its publication – and warned that the only way to save the union with Great Britain was to make it complete: catholic clergy should, for instance, be given equal privileges to protestants. Through the effective quaker publicity machine the book was sent to a hundred MPs and was the focus of the Dublin University Magazine's October 1848 issue. Pim strongly pressed for the passing of the Encumbered Estates Acts of 1848 and 1849 which he hoped would assist the transfer of land from landlords to tenant farmers.
Much admired for his famine relief work and known as a good employer, Pim became the first Irish quaker to sit in parliament when elected liberal MP for Dublin city (1865–74). He was allowed to take his seat by affirmation rather than by swearing the usual oath. His parliamentary style was cautious, and his speeches sober and well researched. He promoted many of the causes then common in quaker circles, opposing capital punishment, supporting proposals for the Sunday closing of public houses, and advocating church disestablishment. However, land reform remained his primary interest and in 1867 he wrote The land question in Ireland, and prepared a detailed bill on the subject the following year. His detailed knowledge of the Irish land system was used by Gladstone in drafting the 1870 land act, which legalised tenant right and extended it throughout the country, provided compensation to tenants for disturbance or improvements, and made provision for tenants to purchase their holdings. This represented the limit of Pim's thinking on landlord–tenant relations. Thereafter he found himself too conservative for his party colleagues as they called for more advanced land legislation and home rule. In preference to home rule, his Ireland and the imperial parliament (1871) advocated increased measures of local government, and he and The O'Donoghue (qv), were the only Irish liberal MPs to come out clearly against an Irish parliament. When an election was called unexpectedly for February 1874, Pim was in Florence and arrived back too late to campaign. He was not reelected and blamed his defeat on his opposition to home rule and denominational education. He became president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland (1875–7) and wrote A review of the economic and social progress of Ireland since the famine (1876). He died 6 July 1885 in Greenback, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.
He married Susan (1806–68), daughter of John Todhunter, a Dublin merchant, and they had eleven children. His eldest son, Joseph Todhunter Pim, was educated at the Friends’ school in York. He took over the family textile manufacturing business and shared many of his father's interests. As honorary secretary (1870–90) and president (1897–9) of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, he delivered lectures on municipal government, taxation, and railway nationalisation, and advocated land reform and economic protectionism. His Ireland in 1880 with suggestions for her land laws (1881) influenced the drafting of the 1881 land act. He served as a director (1895–1924) and governor (1910–12) of the Bank of Ireland. Joseph's brother Frederick William Pim (qv) was a businessman and pamphleteer.