Haughton, James (1795–1873), social reformer and philanthropist, was born 5 May 1795 in Carlow town, eldest son of Samuel Pearson Haughton (1748–1828), corn merchant, and his wife Mary (née Pim) of Ruskin, Queen's Co. (Laois). Although both parents left the Society of Friends shortly after his birth, James was educated at the quaker school in Ballitore, Co. Kildare, and remained a quaker until 1834, when he joined the unitarian congregation on Strand St., Dublin. After spending two years in the family business in Carlow, he moved to Cork (1812) and worked for his uncle's merchant firm. In 1817 he moved to Dublin, where in 1819 he established himself as a flour and corn merchant, forming a lengthy and successful partnership with his brother William (1799–1877), which lasted until James's retirement (1850). Among his other business interests, he was a director of the first Irish railway company, which ran the line between Dublin city and Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) harbour.
An archetypal nonconformist social reformer, Haughton strongly believed that the welfare of humanity could be progressively improved by the application of enlightened policies. Convinced that excessive drinking was the primary cause of Dublin's crime and poverty, he became an active member of the Dublin Temperance Society soon after its foundation in 1829, and was elected president of the Irish Temperance Union. In 1838 he became a teetotaller, and wrote regularly to the press to promote temperance, signing his letters ‘Son of a Water Drinker’. During the famine, he suggested shutting down breweries and distilleries to save grain, and he himself ceased to trade in malt and barley. He represented Ireland at the 1846 and 1862 International Temperance Conventions in London and happily collaborated with Irish catholic clergy, notably Fr Theobald Mathew (qv). With the catholic priest Fr John Spratt (qv) he held weekly meetings throughout the 1850s and 1860s at the temperance hall in Cuffe Lane. In 1855 Haughton was one of those who raised the funds necessary to buy out the rights of the family that owned the notorious Donnybrook fair, despite strong resistance from traders and the public. Aware that working people needed social alternatives to public houses, he encouraged the creation of the People's Gardens in the Phoenix Park and successfully campaigned for the opening on Sundays of the Zoological Gardens at a penny charge and for free admission to the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. He was also a trustee and active supporter of the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute.
Haughton was a prominent figure in the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society, and represented Ireland in 1838 and 1840 at the ‘World's Anti-Slavery Convention’ in London, where his zeal was much admired by leading abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Thomas Clarkson. He published a strong condemnation of slavery in Four letters to the Irish people on the use of articles produced by the labour of slaves (1841). A convinced pacifist, he denounced the US for going to war with Mexico in May 1846, claiming it was intent on spreading slavery into Mexico. He admired Daniel O'Connell (qv), particularly for his fervent opposition to bloodshed and slavery, and joined the Repeal Association in 1840. However, he left after the secession of the Young Irelanders in July 1846 when they refused to rule out the use of physical force. Although he disapproved of the Young Irelanders’ bellicose rhetoric, he argued that they had a right to differ from O'Connell and that they had been expelled not because of any violent intentions but because of their opposition to sectarianism and cooperation with the whigs. He worked hard to reconcile the two groups, but after the failure of unity negotiations in December 1846 he joined the Young Ireland Irish Confederation (founded January 1847) and was appointed to its council. In February 1847 he engaged in a debate on slavery in the Nation with the anti-abolitionist Young Ireland priest Fr John Kenyon (qv), and in April resigned from the confederation when it failed to condemn slavery in an address to the US vice-president, George Mifflin Dallas, a slave-owner. Haughton subsequently dismissed all repeal agitation as pointless, advocating instead cooperation between British and Irish reformers. He admitted to a friend that ‘I hate party-work, my efforts are for moral reform; political reforms would follow as a matter of course’ (Rowlands, 9). He did, however, raise funds for the defence of the Young Irelanders after their failed insurrection of July 1848, and later supported an amnesty for Fenian prisoners after the 1867 rebellion.
While temperance and anti-slavery were his great causes, Haughton also advocated many other reforms. During the famine, he gave generously to relief committees and charitable institutions, and advocated widespread public works and greater security of tenure for tenant farmers. He was a founding member, council member, and vice-president (1860–73) of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. An activist in the Hibernian Peace Society and the British India Society, and sometime president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom (detractors christened him ‘Vegetable Haughton’), he wrote regularly to British and Irish newspapers on such issues as the exploitation of India by the East India Company, the extension of the electoral franchise, education, sanitary reform, taxation, land reform, animal rights, the opium trade, flogging in the army, repression of crime, and capital punishment. Alongside like-minded enthusiasts such as Richard Allen (qv), and Richard Davis Webb (qv) (who collectively became known as ‘The Anti-Everythingarians’), he spoke regularly on these issues at public meetings. Although some contemporaries considered him overly zealous and naive in his beliefs, he was widely respected for his humanity and sincerity. He died 20 February 1873 at his home in 35 Eccles St., Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.
He married (1822) Mary Anne Barcroft (1795–1829) of Cork; they had a son, Samuel (1825–92), and four daughters, one of whom, Mary Anne, married the economist William Neilson Hancock (qv).