The national hero of El Salvador is Father José Matías Delgado (1768–1833), who raised the first call for independence. A renowned political leader was Manuel José Arce (1786–1847), who fought against the Mexican empire of Iturbide and was the first president of the United Provinces of Central America. Gerardo Barrios Espinosa (1809–65) was a liberal president during the 19th century.
Prominent Salvadoran literary figures of the 19th century were Juan José Cañas (1826–1912), a poet and diplomat and the author of the Salvadoran national anthem, and Francisco E. Galindo (1850–1900), a poet and dramatist.
Writers of note in the 20th century include Alberto Masferrer (1865–1932), an essayist and poet; Juan Ramón Uriarte (1875–1927), an essayist and educator; and Salvador Salazar Arrué (1899–1975). Juan Francisco Cisneros (1823–78) is a nationally recognized painter.
Key figures in Salvadoran politics of the 1970s and 1980s are José Napoleón Duarte (1926–90) and Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta (1943–92). The assassinated Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdames (1917–80) was well known as a defender of human rights.