The liberal architects of the freedoms of movement, trade, marriage, and settlement had hoped that these measures would smooth the transition to a market society, help resolve the social question, and accelerate the inner consolidation of the new state. The relief residence system played a pivotal role in this strategy. However, the relentless pace of industrialization, urbanization, and migration during the empire simply transformed the social problem, rather than resolving it, and it was during the 1860s and 1870s that the question of pauperism was definitively supplanted by the “worker question” (Arbeiterfrage), that is, the problem of ensuring the economic security, cultural elevation, social integration, and political loyalty of the new class of wage-earning factory workers.
In 1866/7, much of Germany was unified with the founding – under Prussian leadership – of the North German Confederation, and the remaining German states were brought into this political union (and Austria definitively excluded) with the founding of the German Empire in 1871. Universal male suffrage was instituted in the confederation, and then in the empire, by Bismarck, who expected that the peasantry and urban workers would serve as a political counterweight to urban liberalism. However, the May 1869 suffrage law of the North German Confederation, which was taken over by the Empire, also stated that persons who had received public assistance during the preceding year were not eligible to participate in national elections.