Haughton, son of Samuel Pearson Haughton (1748–1828), by Mary, daughter of James Pim of Rushin, Queen’s County (now County Laois), is born in Carlow, County Carlow, and educated at Ballitor, County Kildare, from 1807 to 1810, under James White, a quaker. After filling several situations to learn his business, in 1817 he settles in Dublin, where he becomes a corn and flour factor, in partnership with his brother William. He retires in 1850. Although educated as a Friend, he joins the Unitarians in 1834, and remains throughout his life a strong believer in their tenets.
Haughton supports the anti-slavery movement at an early period and takes an active part in it until 1838, going in that year to London as a delegate to a convention. Shortly after the Temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew takes the pledge, on April 10, 1838, Haughton becomes one of his most devoted disciples. For many years he gives most of his time and energies to promoting total abstinence and to advocating legislative restrictions on the sale of intoxicating drinks.
In December 1844 Haughton is the chief promoter of a fund which is raised to pay some of the debts of Father Mathew and release him from prison. About 1835 he commences a series of letters in the public press which make his name widely known. He writes on temperance, slavery, British India, peace, capital punishment, sanitary reform, and education. His first letters are signed “The Son of a Water Drinker,” but he soon commences using his own name and continues to write until 1872.
Haughton takes a leading part in a series of weekly meetings which are held in Dublin in 1840, when so numerous are the social questions discussed that a newspaper editor calls the speakers the “Anti-everythingarians.” In association with Daniel O’Connell, of whose character he has a very high opinion, he advocates various plans for the amelioration of the condition of Ireland and the Repeal of the Union, but is always opposed to physical force.
Haughton becomes a vegetarian in 1846, both on moral and sanitary grounds. For two or three years before his death he is president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. He is one of the first members of the Statistical Society of Dublin (1847), a founder of the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute (1849), in the same year is on the committee of the Dublin Peace Society, aids in abolishing Donnybrook Fair in 1855, and takes a chief part in 1861 in opening the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin on Sundays.
James Haughton dies at 35 Eccles Street, Dublin, on February 20, 1873, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 24 in the presence of an immense crowd of people.
Haughton’s son, Samuel Haughton, publishes a memoir of his father’s life including extracts from his public correspondence in 1877.