Theodore Burton was born in Jefferson, Ohio, on December 20, 1851. After attending the local public schools, Burton took classes at the Grand River Institute in Austinburg, Ohio, and Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. Ultimately, he graduated from Oberlin College in 1872.
After graduation, Burton studied the law. He gained admittance to the Ohio bar in 1875. Burton began to practice law in Cleveland, Ohio. Burton affiliated himself with the Republican Party in Ohio. He entered politics in 1889, when he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. After running unsuccessfully for a second term, he returned to his law practice. In 1895, Burton returned to the House of Representatives. He remained in the House until his election as a senator. Burton then served in the United States Senate from 1909 to 1915. Burton became involved in conservation issues during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, leading to his appointment as chairman of the Inland Waterways Commission in 1907-1908 and chairman of the National Waterways Commission from 1908 to 1912. Burton did not run for reelection to the Senate in 1914. Instead, he became involved in the banking industry in New York City. Ohio delegates to the Republican National Convention in 1916 nominated Burton as their choice for president, but Burton was unsuccessful in gaining the national party nomination.
In 1921, Burton returned to the U.S. House of Representatives. He remained in the house until December 15, 1928, when Frank B. Willis died and Burton was appointed to fill his seat in the Senate. In 1922, President Warren G. Harding appointed Burton to represent the United States at the World War Debt Funding Commission, and Burton served as the head of the American delegation at the Geneva Conference in 1925. Burton did not complete his term as senator, dying in Washington, DC, on October 28, 1929. He is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.