The empire on which the sun never sets
The phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" has been used with variations to describe certain global empires that were so extensive that there was always at least one part of their territory in daylight.
It was originally used for the Spanish Empire, mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries, and for the British Empire, mainly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially in the 20th century, the metaphor (usually without the word "Empire") has been transferred to refer to American power.
In the early 16th century, the phrase, "el imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol" (the empire on which the sun never sets) originated with a remark made by Fray Francisco de Ugalde to Charles I of Spain (r. 1512 to 1556), who as king of Spain and as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, had an empire, which included many territories in Europe, islands in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, cities in North Africa and vast territories in the Americas.
The phrase gained added resonance during the reign of Charles's son, Philip II of Spain, when the Philippines and several other island chains in the Pacific were obtained by Spain. When King Henry of Portugal died, Philip II pressed his claim to the Portuguese throne and was recognised as Philip I of Portugal in 1581. He then reigned over all his father's possessions in Europe, Africa and the Americas (except the Holy Roman Empire) and Asia and the Portuguese Empire, which itself included territories in South America, Africa, Asia and islands in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.
In 1585, Giovanni Battista Guarini wrote Il pastor fido to mark the marriage of Catherine Michelle, daughter of Philip II, to Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. Guarini's dedication read, "Altera figlia / Di qel Monarca, a cui / Nö anco, quando annotta, il Sol tramonta." ("The proud daughter / of that monarch to whom / when it grows dark [elsewhere] the sun never sets.").
In the early 17th century, the phrase was familiar to John Smith of Jamestown, and to Francis Bacon, who writes: "both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them : which, to say truly, is a beam of glory [...]". Thomas Urquhart wrote of "that great Don Philippe, Tetrarch of the world, upon whose subjects the sun never sets." 
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Bourbon kings of Spain added to their Royal Arms the emblem, "A solis ortu usque ad occasum", a phrase taken from Psalm 113:3 which is translated as, "From the rising of the sun to its setting."
In the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller's 1787 play, Don Carlos, Don Carlos's father, Philip II, says, "German: Ich heiße / der reichste Mann in der getauften Welt; / Die Sonne geht in meinem Staat nicht unter." ("I am called / The richest monarch in the Christian world; / The sun in my dominion never sets.").
Joseph Fouché recalled Napoleon saying before the Peninsular War, "Reflect that the sun never sets in the immense inheritance of Charles V, and that I shall have the empire of both worlds."  This was cited in Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon
In the 16th century Portugal phrases with the same meaning or parallel meanings were used in royal and personal mottos, and in literature and epic poetry in particular.
Several phrases in "Os Lusiadas" (written since the mid-sixteenth century, and published in 1572), by poet Luis de Camões, illustrate the same meaning, showing the apparent course of the Sun. One of them appears in Canto I:
- Thou mighty King, whose high Empire
- The Sun, soon rising, see first,
- Sees it also in the middle of the Hemisphere,
- And descending, sights it as the last one.
In the 19th century, it became popular to apply the phrase to the British Empire. It was a time when British world maps showed the Empire in red and pink to highlight British imperial power spanning the globe. Scottish author, John Wilson, writing as "Christopher North" in Blackwood's Magazine in 1829, is sometimes credited as originating the usage. However, George Macartney wrote in 1773, in the wake of the territorial expansion that followed Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War, of "this vast empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained."  In a speech on 31 July 1827, Rev. R. P. Buddicom said, "It had been said that the sun never set on the British flag; it was certainly an old saying, about the time of Richard the Second, and was not so applicable then as at the present time."  In 1821, the Caledonian Mercury wrote of the British Empire, "On her dominions the sun never sets; before his evening rays leave the spires of Quebec, his morning beams have shone three hours on Port Jackson, and while sinking from the waters of Lake Superior, his eye opens upon the Mouth of the Ganges." 
Daniel Webster famously expressed a similar idea in 1834: "A power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England." In 1839, Sir Henry Ward said in the House of Commons, "Look at the British Colonial empire — the most magnificent empire that the world ever saw. The old Spanish boast that the sun never set in their dominions, has been more truly realised amongst ourselves."  By 1861, Lord Salisbury complained that the £1.5 million spent on colonial defence by Britain merely enabled the nation "to furnish an agreeable variety of stations to our soldiers, and to indulge in the sentiment that the sun never sets on our Empire".
In James Joyce's Ulysses, when Mr. Deasy asks Stephen what an Englishman's proudest boast is, Stephen offers "That on his empire [...] the sun never sets." Mr. Deasy retorts "That's not English. A French Celt said that." Critics suggest Mr Deasy was mistaken.
In an 1865 speech in Oakland, California, Rev. W. B. Brown of New Jersey quipped that the reason the sun never set upon the Empire was that God did not trust the British in the dark. The quip has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln, among others.
According to Richard Lederer's mock history of the world assembled from errors found in student-written papers, "[t]he sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire was in the east and the sun sets in the west." 
From the mid-nineteenth century, the image of the sun never setting can be found applied to Anglophone culture, explicitly including the United States as well as Britain, for example in a speech by Alexander Campbell in 1852.
It was subsequently applied specifically to the American sphere of influence. An 1897 magazine article titled "The Greatest Nation on Earth" boasted, "[T]he sun never sets on Uncle Sam". In 1906, William Jennings Bryan wrote, "If we can not boast that the sun never sets on American territory, we can find satisfaction in the fact that the sun never sets on American philanthropy"; after which, The New York Times received letters attempting to disprove his presupposition.
A 1991 history book discussion of U.S. expansion states, "Today ... the sun never sets on American territory, properties owned by the U.S. government and its citizens, American armed forces abroad, or countries that conduct their affairs within limits largely defined by American power." 
Although the United States no longer has any possessions further west than Guam or further east than the Virgin Islands, it currently has military presence in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brazil, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Bulgaria, Cuba, Djibouti, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and others. The phrase is sometimes used critically with the implication of American imperialism, as in the title of Joseph Gerson's book, The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases.
San Francisco librarian Dick Dillon is credited with the story of a baseball umpire who spanks his little boy and then, by way of apology, invites him to sit on his lap. The boy refuses, proving that "the son never sits on the brutish umpire".
The monologue "Tried by the Centre Court" by Flanders and Swann ends with the line: "The umpire on whom the sun never sets."
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Vós, poderoso Rei, cujo alto Império
O Sol, logo em nascendo, vê primeiro,
Vê-o também no meio do Hemisfério,
E quando dece o deixa derradeiro
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