The phrase place in the sun means a prominent or favourable position.
It is traceable to Pensées (Thoughts), the name given posthumously to a collection of fragments on theology and philosophy by the French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-62):
(transcription in contemporary French)
« Ce chien est à moi », disaient ces pauvres enfants. « C’est là ma place au soleil. » Voilà le commencement et l’image de l’usurpation de toute la terre.
(* mien, tien: mine, yours)
the original manuscript by Blaise Pascal
CeChien est a moy , disoyent ces pauures enfants ,
voila le commancemt ElJma Je Cestla maplace auSoleil
Voila le commancemt ElJmage de lVsurpation de
This was rendered as follows in the earliest English translation, Monsieur Pascall’s thoughts, meditations, and prayers, touching matters moral and divine as they were found in his papers after his death (London, 1688), by the Church of England clergyman and historian John Walker (baptised 1674 – died 1747):
This Dog is mine, said those poor Children; That’s my place in the Sun: This is the beginning and Image of the Usurpation of all the Earth.
It seems that the modern use of the phrase originated in a speech made on 6th December 1897 at the Imperial Diet by the German statesman Bernhard von Bülow (1849-1929), who had just been appointed Foreign Secretary; the following day, The Times (London) published the following translation of that speech by its correspondent in Berlin:
“We are perfectly prepared to pay consideration to the interests of other great Powers in East Asia, in the assured expectation that our own interests will likewise be treated by them with due regard. In one word, we desire to throw no one into the shade, but we also demand our own place in the sunlight.”
The phrase appeared in its current form in the same London newspaper on 7th January 1898; China had surrendered to Germany, for a nominal annual rental, all her sovereign rights over Jiaozhou Bay, and the Berlin correspondent of The Times explained that “this semi-official organ”, the North-German Gazette,
announces that Germany has realized the expectations of her Foreign Secretary and “has taken her place in the sun.”
This is the beginning of an article titled A Place in the Sun, published in The Lancashire Daily Post (Preston, Lancashire) on 1st August 1904:
“Liberal Leaguer,” who is supposed to be voicing the opinions of Lord Rosebery in the “Contemporary Review” for August, asks for “a place in the sun” for his party in the next Liberal Ministry. Certainly, as he puts it, the principle should be one of comprehension, not of exclusion. We believe the country will prefer seeing the best men filling the best posts without regard to differences of opinion that in the circumstances are little more than academic.