First wave transitions were political battles spanning many decades, in which the institutional components of democracy were implemented one at a time. The order in which these reforms occurred – the democratizing sequence – varied significantly from case to case. In England, for example, parliament was strengthened and civil rights were guaranteed before universal male suffrage was extended. In Germany, by contrast, this sequence was reversed, with all adult males permitted to participate in the election of representatives long before parliament had gained significant powers or civil rights enabled opposition forces to freely contest elections. This research project explores what caused this institutional divergence and examines how it affected the processes of first wave democratization. I argue that the identity of the actors involved, their preferences over particular institutions, and the strategies they pursue at different stages were endogenous to the sequence of reforms. Contrary to structural accounts of democratization, actors’ identities, preferences and strategies were not immutably given at the start of the democratization sequence, but were shaped by the unfolding of history. I test my theory by using process tracing methods on 10 cases of European democratization.