Arago was born in Perpignan, the youngest of the four Arago brothers. His parents were François Bonaventure Arago (1754–1814) and Marie Arago (1755–1845). He entered the École Polytechnique but left due to involvement with the Carbonari.
He pursued literary interests and was an acquaintance of Honoré de Balzac (they co-wrote an unsuccessful novel). In 1829, he became director of the Théâtre du Vaudeville; it closed in 1838, leaving him with considerable debts.
In February 1848, during the Revolution of that year, he became director of the national post office. He was active in political movements and opposed Napoleon III, and was in exile in Belgium from 1849 to 1859. He briefly served as mayor of Paris, for two months in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. Later, he was involved in a diplomatic mission to Italy.
Arago's brothers included François (astronomer, physicist, politician); Jean, who emigrated to North America and became a general in the Mexican army; and Jacques Étienne Victor, who took part in Louis de Freycinet's exploring voyage in the ship Uranie from 1817 to 1821, and on his return to France devoted himself to his journalism and the drama.
- Percy Bolingbroke St. John (1848). French revolution in 1848: The three days of February 1848; with sketches of Lamartine, Guizot, etc. New York: George P. Putnam. p. 184. Retrieved 17 February 2011.