FRANCO (afterwards LOPES), Sir Ralph, 2nd bt. (1788-1854), of Maristow House, nr. Plymouth, Devon; Market Place, Westbury, Wilts. and 76 Jermyn Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

5 Dec. 1814 - Apr. 1819
1831 - 1837
1841 - 1847
13 Feb. 1849 - 23 Jan. 1854

Family and Education

b. 10 Sept. 1788, o.s. of Abraham de Raphael Franco, coral merchant, and Esther, da. of Mordecai Rodrigues Lopes of Jamaica. educ. Tonbridge sch. ?1798; Winchester 1803; Brasenose, Oxf. 1807. m. 8 May 1817, Susan Gaisford Gibbs, da. of Abraham Ludlow of Heywood House, nr. Westbury, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.p.1 suc. fa. 1799; uncle Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes* by spec. rem. as 2nd bt. 26 Mar. 1831 and took name of Lopes by royal lic. 7 May 1831. d. 23 Jan. 1854.

Offices Held

Mayor, Westbury 1824-5, 1828-9, recorder 1831; dep. warden of stannaries 1852-d.

Capt. 4 Devon militia 1808; maj. N. Devon militia 1821.

Biography

Franco’s ancestors were Portuguese Jews, who established mercantile houses in Leghorn, London and India. His grandfather Raphael Franco of 106 Fenchurch Street, who was the second son of Jacob, the second son of Moses Franco of Leghorn, died in 1781, having had with his wife Leah D’Aguilar (d. 1808), a son Abraham, one of several children who settled in Jamaica. Abraham married Esther Lopes (d. 1795), the daughter of a wealthy Jamaican sugar planter, and died at Lucknow in 1799, leaving one son.2 Esther’s brother Manasseh Lopes (later Masseh Lopes), who first entered Parliament in 1802, made this child, his nephew, baptized as Ralph Franco that year, his heir. He established him at his secondary Devon seat of Roborough, near Plymouth, and in 1814 brought him in for his pocket borough of Westbury, as a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s ministry. In 1817 Franco married into an extended family of Westbury clothiers.3

A participant in Masseh Lopes’s electoral intrigues, Franco ‘retired of my own accord’ in 1819 (as he told the House, 20 Jan. 1832), before his uncle’s disgrace and imprisonment later that year. In July 1820 he pleaded with the prime minister for clemency to be shown to his aged patron, and apparently received a sympathetic response from Lord Sidmouth, the home secretary, for Masseh Lopes was released from gaol in September.4 Franco does not appear to have been active in local politics. As mayor (an office he had probably filled several times) and one of the very few Westbury electors, he was present to assist in the tumultuous election of the home secretary Robert Peel, 2 Mar. 1829, on the resignation of Masseh Lopes in his favour.5 By a special remainder, he succeeded his uncle, who died in March 1831, to the baronetcy which he had been granted in 1805. He was the executor and principal beneficiary of his will, and so came into most of his fortune, which was estimated at about £800,000.6 He also took over the management of Westbury, as recorder, and, now a reformer, he turned out the anti-reform Member Sir Alexander Grant at the 1831 general election, when the other sitting Member sought a seat elsewhere. He returned himself and, after an apparent misunderstanding which occasioned a by-election, another reformer, Henry Frederick Stephenson.7 Five days after his election he changed his name to Lopes, in accordance with his uncle’s will.

In a long submission to Lord Brougham, the lord chancellor, 3 June 1831, Lopes set out his opinions on the Grey ministry’s reform bill (under which Westbury, although originally scheduled for partial disfranchisement, was now, by a government amendment in April, to retain both its seats):

Although a much interested individual in point of property, I am not one who has veered and twisted about with the growth and progress of this measure. My ground was taken from the first, as correspondences could show, and my opinions have been some time known to my friends, in as far as when the day arrived (which I will not be hypocritical enough to say I wished for) I should be among the foremost ready for personal sacrifice - that day is come, and if no one ‘parts with his own’ with more regret than I shall, there will be but little sorrow and annoyance at what is about to befall individuals.

He then listed his objections, beginning with the ‘dangerous and pernicious’ insinuation in the preamble that ‘divers abuses’ had ‘long prevailed’ in the return of Members. He attached most importance to the ‘too low rate’ of the borough qualification, and the ‘undefined way in which the standard is to be estimated’. He added that

anyone who has ever canvassed a scot and lot borough [as Lopes had at Newport, Cornwall, in 1818] can tell about privations the most destitute will undergo to keep themselves on the rate for the purpose of being voters. Numbers who ought to be receiving relief, are paying to the maintenance of the poor, that when the time of election comes round they may be reimbursed in a lump with interest that which they have put out in driblets.

He acknowledged the embarrassment it would cause ministers to rescind their promise, but warned that

you may afterwards extend (and may be saved the trouble of doing it yourselves), but you never in a reformed Parliament will be able to contract the boundaries of the suffrage and if popular and external feeling has done much in enforcing the present state of things, it will be exerted in a tenfold degree to retain and secure it, and if it has influenced and dictated now, it will command upon any attempt at revision by putting an irresistible veto.

He therefore suggested a ‘remedy or corrective’:

Let the £10 man have his vote, but let another who is higher rented or rated have two or more votes, rising according to a graduated scale. You thus preserve your own consistency, you keep faith to the public and you obviate the pernicious and overwhelming tendency of the £10 tide of voting. You give to property that due and just influence it ought to have, and rely upon it by doing this you will satisfy all parties, high and low, those for as well as those against reform, and you will give a feeling of security to thousands who are friendly to reform, but have a deep, a rooted, though a silent dread and apprehension of the £10 city and borough franchise.

Clearly drawing on his own experience at Westbury, he advocated giving ministers ex-officio membership of the Commons, so that

if they happen to be representatives of any place let them have votes, like other Members, but if not, let them at least have place and voice, to expound, to advocate or to defend the measures of government. Suppose, by the by, when all private nomination is at an end, any minister in the middle of a Parliament changes his situation from a lower to a higher office and is obliged to appeal to his constituents, and they, possibly the voters of some insignificant borough, or of some place (as the case may be) where popular feeling on any particular question is running high, and they chose to reject him. Is the king, for the mere caprice or hostility of one place, to be deprived of his paramount prerogative, the choice of his own ministers? Or is the country from the same cause to be deprived of the services of some high commanding and perhaps saving individual?

He also recommended a higher property qualification for Members, the prevention of any borough from being dominated by the neighbouring town with which it was to be amalgamated and the preservation of the ‘nice balancing’ of the agricultural, commercial and manufacturing interests.8

In the House, 6 July 1831, he rose, ‘not ... under the advice, or as the representative of a numerous body of constituents, but impelled by my own feelings alone’, to state that he was ‘now willing to act up to the idea I have entertained from the first moment this subject has been discussed, that it is my duty to yield up and abandon every selfish and personal interest’. He put his arguments in favour of providing seats for ministers and safeguarding the agricultural interest, but stressed his support for the reintroduced bill, and voted for its second reading that day. He divided with ministers against using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, but divided against the total disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July. He was listed as absent from the division on postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He paired in favour of removing one seat from Dorchester, 28 July, and the following day voted in this sense in respect to Guildford. He divided for the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., and paired for giving one seat to Gateshead, 5 Aug., and for combining Rochester with Chatham and Strood, 9 Aug. Unless it was Stephenson, he was reproved by the House, 10 Aug., for cheering Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, in a ‘marked manner’. He voted for the third reading of the bill, 19 Sept., and its passage, 21 Sept. He was granted three weeks’ leave of absence because of illness in his family, 22 Sept. 1831.

Lopes paired in favour of the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. Hoping to benefit from the widely expected peerage creations thought to be necessary to secure its passage through the Lords, he wrote to Brougham, 12 Jan. 1832, that

the much regarded relative whom I have succeeded, and to whom I am so deeply indebted, was persecuted, and with unreasonable severity punished, for the breach of those laws pronounced to be inherent in a system, now about to be abolished. It has been a source of pride to me to have had an opportunity to vindicate his memory, by the voluntary and cheerful sacrifice I came forward to make at the call and under the emergencies of the government, and the country. Surely then, I may, I trust, be pardoned in saying, that I should feel an honest exaltation, if any act of mine could obliterate the painful feelings his sufferings occasioned, and the record of circumstances connected with them. And may I not, without invidious comparison, but rather in honour of him advance, that if he was made bitterly to atone for the liabilities to which he unguardedly subjected himself, the part I have taken, in an equal degree, gives me some title to a share in the honours about to be advanced to those who have promoted the question of reform, or have in that cause made any sacrifices of a personal nature.9

In fact, like his uncle, his hopes for a peerage were never fulfilled. On 20 Jan. he denied Croker’s allegation that his selection of pro-reform Members for Westbury had influenced the government’s decision, taken just before the dissolution, to allow it to retain its two seats. He voted to go into committee on the bill that day, and in favour of partially disfranchising the 30 boroughs in schedule B, 23 Jan. He divided against giving the vote to all £10 poor rate payers, 3 Feb., paired in favour of the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and voted for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He spoke in praise of the foreign secretary Lord Palmerston’s* conduct, 26 Mar.,