Most contemporary civil wars are now recurrences of earlier civil wars. In contrast to classic theories of grievance and opportunity, this article advances a theory of civil war recurrence that highlights the critical role political and legal institutions play in constraining elites in post–civil war states. Such constraints serve as a check on executive power, help incumbent elites credibly commit to political reform, and create a situation where rebels need not maintain militias as a supplementary mechanism to hold political elites in line. All of this reduces the odds of repeat civil war. Using a statistical analysis of post-conflict years, this article demonstrates that strong political institutions are not only significantly and negatively related to repeat civil war but are the primary determinants of whether countries get caught in the conflict trap.