Bailly on elections to the Estates General (1789)


In March 1789 the noted astronomer and future mayor of Paris, Jean-Sylvian Bailly, expressed his delight at being able to participate in elections to the Estates General:

“When I found myself in the middle of the district assembly, I felt that I breathed a new air. It was a marvel to be something in the political system, and that merely by virtue of being a citizen, or rather a burgess of Paris, for at that time we were still burgesses, not citizens.

The men who for years had been meeting in the clubs used to discuss public affairs in them, but only as topics of conversation. They had no rights, no influence whatever. Here we had the right to elect, we had at least, as in Estates General of former times, the right to make requests and to draw up lists of grievances (cahiers).

Here, we had an influence — distant, certainly, but obtained for the first time in more than a century and a half. And this privilege had been won by an enlightened generation who understood its value and would be able to extend its advantages.

This assembly, such a tiny part of the nation, was nevertheless conscious of the rights and the strength of the whole. It realised that these rights and this strength lent it a kind of authority, one that may reside in the wills of individuals who are destined to form the general will.”