The son of an artist, Bailly was a brilliant student who as a teenager wrote tragedies in his spare time. His interest was in the sciences, however, particularly astronomy. He joined the Academy of Sciences in 1763 and within a few years had become France’s most notable astronomer.
After the Estates-General, Bailly was returned to his native Paris. On July 15th, he was elected to head the newly formed Paris Commune, becoming the city’s first mayor. Two days later Bailly, as mayor, presented Louis XVI with a tricolour cockade and the keys to Paris, famously declaring that “the people have reconquered their king”.
Bailly’s bold leadership and gestures made him popular with the people of Paris, who routinely cheered his public appearances. But for all his early popularity, Bailly remained a political moderate and a constitutional monarchist at heart. As mayor of Paris, he supported the National Constituent Assembly while ignoring or suppressing radical political demands. Bailly’s moderate position made him a frequent target for radical journalists like Jean-Paul Marat and Georges Danton, who ran against Bailly for the mayorship in 1790.
Bailly retired to Nantes and returned to his scientific research but was arrested during the Reign of Terror. He was returned to Paris and placed on trial, chiefly for his role in the killings of July 17th 1791. Bailly was convicted and guillotined on the Champ de Mars in November 1793.